The Basics

BC tenants and landlords should be familiar with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) – the department of the provincial government in charge of residential tenancy law. The RTB runs an administrative tribunal that can rule on or “adjudicate” legal disputes between tenants and landlords.

This service – known as “dispute resolution” – is similar to court in some respects, but offers a more affordable and accessible adjudication process. For example, the standard application fee is only $100, and most hearings are conducted over the phone with an arbitrator, rather than a judge. When tenants and landlords cannot resolve legal disputes on their own, the solution is rarely to hire a lawyer and go to court. The vast majority of rental disputes in BC must be adjudicated through the RTB’s dispute resolution process.

Key Resource: Rules of Procedure for Dispute Resolution

 

Jurisdiction

The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) adjudicates most rental disputes in BC, but there are some exceptions. If your tenancy is not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) – or if it is covered, but the type of dispute falls outside the jurisdiction of the RTB – you may have to access a different tribunal or court. Here are the most common examples:

  • Civil Resolution Tribunal. The RTB adjudicates disputes between tenants and landlords. If you have an issue with another tenant or occupant with whom you live, you can apply to the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) for assistance. For example, one common living situation that is not covered under the jurisdiction of the RTB is where a “head-tenant” rents out bedrooms to their roommates. The CRT can handle monetary claims up to $5,000.
  • Small Claims Court. For disputes that fall outside the jurisdiction of the RTB, but also exceed the limit at the CRT, Small Claims Court can handle claims between $5,001 and $35,000. In addition, if you are awarded monetary compensation through the RTB but your landlord refuses to pay, you will have to apply to Small Claims Court to enforce your monetary order.
  • BC Supreme Court. Tenants and landlords are generally not allowed to bypass the RTB and ask the BC Supreme Court to adjudicate rental disputes. The RTB is considered an expert tribunal, which means the court shows a high level of deference in allowing it to resolve residential tenancy law matters. The BC Supreme Court only handles monetary claims over the RTB’s limit of $35,000. (There is one exception to this rule: if you are claiming 12 months’ rent as compensation under section 51(2) or 51.3 of the RTA, you can apply to the RTB even if the total compensation exceeds $35,000.)
  • BC Human Rights Tribunal: The BC Human Rights Tribunal is responsible for accepting, screening, mediating, and adjudicating human rights complaints. If you have faced discrimination under section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code, you can contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal for assistance.
  • Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC (OIPC BC): The OIPC BC provides independent oversight and enforcement of BC’s access and privacy laws. They also offer a series of guidance documents, including one titled, Private Sector Landlords and Tenants. If you have any concerns about your landlord’s collection of personal information, you can contact the OIPC BC for assistance.

 

Types of Orders

Arbitrators have the power to settle legal disputes on a range of topics. An arbitrator can:

  • order your landlord to follow the law;
  • order your landlord to pay you money, or “damages”;
  • order your landlord to repair your rental unit;
  • prevent your landlord from entering your rental unit;
  • give you permission to change your locks;
  • give you permission to withhold money from future rent payments; and
  • cancel an eviction notice that your landlord has given you.

See section 9 of the RTA for more information.

Multiple claims: Arbitrators can rule on multiple claims at the same hearing – as long as they are related and have been included as part of the same dispute resolution application. If you forget to list a claim on your application, or try to add an unrelated one, you may have to submit a second application for a separate hearing. See section 2.3 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 

Procedural Fairness

The rules about natural justice and procedural fairness apply to the dispute resolution process. According to Section 58 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, “questions about the application of common law rules of natural justice and procedural fairness must be decided having regard to whether, in all of the circumstances, the tribunal acted fairly.” The BC Supreme Court has also found that procedural fairness consists of two rights: the right to be heard and the right to an impartial hearing. Here are some examples of issues that may be considered breaches of procedural fairness:

  • you were not given sufficient notice of a hearing and therefore could not attend or adequately prepare;
  • the arbitrator did not allow you to speak or present your evidence;
  • the arbitrator did not allow you to question the opposing party;
  • the arbitrator relied on documentary evidence that you never received and therefore could not adequately respond to; and
  • the arbitrator had a personal interest in the outcome of your hearing.

 

Standard of Proof and Onus of Proof

The standard of proof at dispute resolution is on a “balance of probabilities”. This means that arbitrators will consider a range of factors, such as the law, relevant evidence, and credibility, in order to reach a decision based on what they believe most likely occurred. The standard of proof at dispute resolution is therefore lower than the standard of proof at a criminal trial, where the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. When participating in the dispute resolution process, the goal is to present a clear and convincing argument that pushes your version of events beyond a 50% probability in the eyes of the arbitrator.

The onus of proof at dispute resolution is almost always on the applicant. In other words, the person making the claim and initiating the hearing usually has the primary responsibility to prove their case to the arbitrator. While this arrangement makes sense for most disputes, there is one major exception to this rule: when a tenant applies for dispute resolution to challenge an eviction notice, the onus of proof gets reversed and the landlord, as the respondent, must bear the primary responsibility to prove their case to the arbitrator.

See section 6.6 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 


 

Merit Assessment

You should feel confident that participating in the dispute resolution process will be worth your time, money, and energy. Whether you are planning on self-representing or acting as an advocate, always try to gauge your likelihood of achieving a positive outcome before applying for dispute resolution.

Here are some common factors to consider when assessing the merits of a case:

  • Jurisdiction. Can the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) adjudicate your dispute? Review TRAC’s webpage, Am I Covered By the Law?, to make sure your case falls within the jurisdiction of the RTB. If not, you will have to access a different court or tribunal, or try to resolve the dispute informally.
  • Written Communication. Have you communicated your concerns to your landlord? For most disputes, the first step is to notify your landlord in writing and give them a reasonable chance to correct the situation. An arbitrator will usually want to see evidence that you informed your landlord of the problem before applying for dispute resolution. TRAC offers a series of Template Letters that can be used as a starting point.
  • Approved Forms. Have you and your landlord been using the correct forms, according to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA)? Before applying for dispute resolution, review the list of approved forms on the RTB’s website. While some are optional, others are mandatory.
  • Service of Documents. How have you and your landlord been communicating during your tenancy? The RTA requires that certain forms and notices be given or served in specific ways. Before submitting an application, make sure you have properly served any documents that you wish to rely on as evidence.
  • Deadlines. Have you or your landlord missed any deadlines? For example, if you miss the deadline to dispute an eviction notice, you may be conclusively presumed to have accepted the end of your tenancy. Similarly, if you apply for dispute resolution before your landlord’s deadline to return a deposit has passed, your application will likely be dismissed. When calculating deadlines, make sure to factor in the rules about when documents are considered received. The RTB also offers a series of Calculators to help you determine important deadlines.
  • Law vs. Opinion. You may disagree with your landlord about something related to your tenancy, but what does the RTA say about the matter? Do your research and make sure the law is on your side before applying for dispute resolution.
  • Evidence vs. Allegations. Do you have enough quality evidence to convince an arbitrator to rule in your favour? To be successful at dispute resolution, you will likely need more than just oral testimony. Before applying, think about how realistic it will be for you to gather documents, photos, videos, recordings, receipts, witnesses, and other evidence in support of your claims. To help determine whether you have sufficient evidence, you might want to create a table lining up the factual points that need to be proven in one column, and the evidence to prove those points in the other column.
  • Preparation Time. When will your case be heard? Dispute resolution wait times can fluctuate throughout the year, but hearings are always scheduled based on urgency, with the most serious applications receiving the highest priority and monetary order applications receiving the lowest priority. If you are wanting to apply for dispute resolution, make sure you can arrange your schedule so that you have adequate time to prepare for and participate in the hearing. This is particularly important for advocates working with multiple clients.

 


 

Settlement Negotiations

Problems between tenants and landlords can often be settled without the need for a dispute resolution hearing. See TRAC’s webpage, Alternatives to Dispute Resolution / Settlement Negotiations, for more information.

 


 

Submitting an Application

Tenants and landlords most commonly apply for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch website, using a Basic BCeID. However, applications can also be submitted in person at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) or any Service BC office.

 

Application Fee

The standard application fee for dispute resolution is $100, though there are a couple of ways you can avoid this cost.

  1. If you win your hearing, the arbitrator can order your landlord to repay you the fee – as long as you have made that request as part of your application.
  2. If you have a low enough income, you can apply for a fee waiver that cancels the fee entirely. To be successful, you will have to provide evidence of your income, such as an income assistance statement, employment insurance benefits statement, recent paystub from an employer, or recent bank statements.

 

Naming Parties

When applying for dispute resolution, name yourself as the “applicant” and your landlord as the “respondent”. You may only have one landlord – the owner of the rental unit – though it can be quite common for an owner to appoint an “agent”, such as a property management company, to act on their behalf. If this is the case, you can list both the owner and property management company on the application form.

It is important to list the owner’s correct legal name in the “respondent” field, especially if you are applying for a monetary order. This will make it much easier to enforce your order through Small Claims Court, if you win your hearing and the owner refuses to pay.

 

Land Title Search

Hopefully your tenancy agreement lists the full legal name and address for service of the owner of your rental unit. If not, you can obtain this information by completing a land title search. See TRAC’s webpage, Looking Up My Landlord, for more information.

 


 

Application Deadlines

Unless the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) states otherwise, the limitation period for applying for dispute resolution is two years from the date a tenancy ends or is assigned. One exception to this rule is cross-applications: if your landlord has applied for dispute resolution within the two-year limitation period, you can file a counterclaim outside of the limitation period – as long as you submit your application within the applicable deadline before the hearing takes place.

Aside from the general limitation period, the RTA lists specific application deadlines for certain types of disputes. For example, there are strict deadlines for tenants to dispute eviction notices and for landlords to return deposits.

 


 

Serving Notice

If the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) accepts your application, they will provide you with a “Notice of Dispute Resolution Proceeding Package” that lists the date and time of your hearing, instructions on how to connect to the conference call, and copies of the application and submitted evidence. Once your hearing package has been made available by the RTB, you have three days to serve it to the respondent(s) in one of the following ways:

  1. by delivering it in person to the landlord or an agent of the landlord; or
  2. by sending it by registered mail to your landlord’s home address, or to the address where they carry on business as a landlord.

See section 89 of the Residential Tenancy Act for more information.

 

Exceptions

If you are unable to serve the hearing package in person or by registered mail because a respondent is avoiding service or cannot be found, you can submit RTB Form, Application for Substituted Service. To be successful with this type of application, you will have to show the RTB:

  • evidence of your reasonable attempts to serve the documents according to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA); or
  • evidence that the other party is unlikely to receive the documents if served according to the RTA.

Your application should also include your proposed method of service and a rationale for why you believe it will work. See section 3.4 of RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 


 

Evidence Deadlines

At the time of applying for dispute resolution, you are expected to include any available evidence that you wish to rely on at the hearing. However, if you discover new evidence after applying, you can still add that evidence to your application – as long as it is served as soon as possible and received by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and respondent not less than 14 days before the hearing. If you are the respondent in a dispute resolution application, the same rules apply, but with a different evidence deadline: once you have received the applicant’s evidence, you must submit your own evidence as soon as possible, so that it can be received by the RTB and applicant not less than seven days before the hearing.

It may be tempting to withhold evidence to try and gain an advantage over your landlord, but the RTB Rules of Procedure clearly require applicants and respondents to submit evidence as soon as possible. If an arbitrator determines that a party unreasonably delayed service of evidence, they may decide to refuse that evidence.

See sections 3.14 and 3.15 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 

Definition of “Days”

The Rules of Procedure contain a definition for “days”. Whenever you see a calculation of time expressed as a “clear” number of days, or as “at least” or “not less than” a number of days, exclude the first and last days in your calculation. However, if the calculation of time is not expressed in one of those manners, then exclude the first day in your calculation, but still count the last day. For example, if you are scheduled to be the respondent in a dispute resolution hearing on July 25th, your evidence deadline would be July 17th, since the Rules of Procedure say the applicant and RTB must receive your evidence not less than seven days before the hearing.

If the deadline to complete an act related to a dispute resolution hearing falls on a holiday, then the deadline is extended to the next day – even if the act can be carried out online on the day of the holiday. For example, if your deadline to submit evidence falls on a Wednesday, which happens to be Family Day, then you can still submit it through the RTB website the following day. Similarly, if the deadline to complete an act at an RTB office or Service BC office is on a day when the office is closed during regular business hours, the deadline gets extended to the next day the office is open.

 

Submitting Additional Evidence

The easiest way to add evidence to an application is through the RTB’s Dispute Access Site, using the unique Dispute Access Code that will be provided to you once your application has been accepted. If you are the respondent in the proceedings, this code will be part of the hearing package that the applicant is required to give you.

 

Late Evidence

Arbitrators have the discretion to accept or reject late evidence. When deciding on this, they must listen to both parties and consider whether their decision would cause undue prejudice or result in a breach of procedural fairness to either party. An arbitrator may also consider additional factors, including but not limited to the following:

  • How late is the evidence? An arbitrator is more likely to accept evidence that is one day late than evidence that is one week late.
  • Why is the evidence late? Was it unavailable in advance of the evidence deadline? If something outside of a party’s control prevented the evidence from being submitted on time, the arbitrator may consider that a valid reason for submitting the evidence late.
  • How much late evidence is there? One or two documents are more likely to be accepted than a large volume of evidence.
  • How would accepting the late evidence affect the other party? Did the other party have adequate time to respond to the late evidence?
  • How would not accepting the late evidence affect the party trying to submit it? The more relevant and important the evidence, the more prejudice is suffered by the party who needs to rely on it, if it is not accepted.

If an arbitrator decides to accept late evidence, the hearing may be adjourned to allow the opposing party to review the evidence and prepare a defence.

See section 3.17 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 


 

Joint Applications

Multiple dispute resolution applications can be joined and heard as one hearing – as long as the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) believes this would result in a fair, efficient, and consistent process. To make this request, use RTB Form, Tenant’s Request to Join Applications for Dispute Resolution.

The Rules of Procedure note that the RTB will also consider the following when responding to a request to join applications:

  • whether the applications relate to the same residential property or residential properties which appear to be managed as one unit;
  • whether all applications name the same landlord;
  • whether the remedies sought in each application are similar; and
  • whether it appears that the arbitrator will have to consider the same facts and make the same or similar findings of fact or law in resolving each application.

See section 2.10 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 

Applying as Co-tenants

If you and a roommate share a tenancy agreement as “co-tenants”, you can submit one application that lists both of you as applicants. You do not have to submit separate applications and request that they be joined.

 


 

Cross Applications

A cross-application is an attempt by a respondent to add their own application to an existing application. To be successful, the person submitting the cross application – known as the “cross-applicant” – must ensure that the issues identified in the cross-application are related to the issues identified in the existing application. In addition, the cross-applicant must apply as soon as possible so that the respondent to the cross-application (the applicant of the original application) can receive the new hearing package and other required documents not less than 14 days before the hearing. If the Residential Tenancy Branch accepts the cross-application, they will schedule it to be heard by the same arbitrator, on the same date and time as the original hearing.

See section 2.11 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 

Exceptions

The one exception to this rule is that cross-applications for expedited hearings will always be heard separately.

 


 

Expedited Hearings

For certain emergency situations, such as illegal lockouts and emergency repairs, the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) offers expedited hearings with shorter service and response time limits. To apply for an expedited hearing, you must submit RTB Form, Tenant Application for Dispute Resolution Expedited Hearing. When making this request, you must submit all of your evidence at the time of applying. If the RTB accepts your application, you will only have one day to serve the respondent with the following hearing package:

  • the Notice of Dispute Resolution Proceeding;
  • the Application for Dispute Resolution;
  • the Respondent Instructions for Dispute Resolution;
  • an Order of the director respecting service;
  • the Expedited Dispute Resolution Process Fact Sheet; and
  • evidence submitted to the RTB.

The applicant is also required to submit RTB Form, Proof of Service – Notice of Expedited Hearingone day after serving the hearing package, and at least two days before the hearing. Failing this requirement may result in the hearing being rescheduled to a later date.

The respondent, once they have received the applicant’s hearing package, must serve their own evidence in a single complete package to the RTB and applicant as soon as possible, and at least two days before the hearing.

See Rule 10 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 


 

Direct Requests

The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) can make legal decisions based solely on an applicant’s written submissions. This type of ex parte application – known as a “Direct Request” – can only be used in two specific situations:

  1. A landlord can use it to enforce a 10 Day Eviction Notice for Non-Payment of Rent, in order to obtain an Order of Possession and a monetary order for any unpaid rent.
  2. A tenant can use it to request the return of a security and/or pet damage deposit.

Before applying for a Direct Request, however, the applicant must wait until the opposing party has missed an important deadline:

    1.  Landlord’s Direct Request:
      • A landlord must wait five days after serving a 10 Day Notice, to give the tenant a chance to either pay their unpaid rent or apply for dispute resolution to challenge the notice. If the tenant pays their full rent, the eviction notice is canceled. If they apply for dispute resolution, a normal participatory hearing will be scheduled.
    2. Tenant’s Direct Request:
      • A tenant must first provide their forwarding address in writing, indicating where they would like their deposit sent. Once the tenant has provided their forwarding address and the tenancy has ended, the landlord has 15 days to either return the deposit (or another agreed-upon amount) or apply for dispute resolution. If the landlord returns the deposit (or another agreed-upon amount), the tenant will have no grounds on which to apply for a Direct Request. If the landlord applies for dispute resolution to make a claim for the deposit, a normal participatory hearing will be scheduled.

The Direct Request process is for clear and obvious cases where the RTB feels confident making a decision without hearing from the respondent. The benefit of applying for a Direct Request is that it can offer a quicker resolution than a normal participatory hearing. But because the process excludes the respondent, the standard of proof is also higher. To be successful with a Direct Request, the applicant must submit all required documentation, with no exceptions. If the RTB has any questions or concerns about an applicant’s submitted documents, such as evidence related to proof of service, they may choose to adjourn the matter to a normal participatory hearing, or require the applicant to submit a new application.

To apply for a Direct Request, you must submit:

See RTB Policy Guidelines 39 and 49 for more information

 


 

Alternate Hearings

While most dispute resolution hearings are held over the phone, the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) does have the authority to hold hearings in person, in writing, or by electronic means, such as video conference. The RTB only grants alternate hearings in limited circumstances.

To request an alternate hearing, applicants can submit RTB Form, Request Alternate Hearing Format, and supporting documentation to the RTB or any Service BC office within three days of the Notice of Dispute Resolution Proceeding being made available to them. Similarly, respondents can submit the same form and supporting documentation to the RTB within three days of receiving, or being considered to have received, the Notice of Dispute Resolution Proceeding from the applicant.

See RTB Policy Guideline 44 and section 6.4 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 


 

Amending an Application

You can add to, alter, or remove claims made in an application by submitting Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Form, Tenant Request to Amend an Application for Dispute Resolution, to the RTB or any Service BC office. Applications can also be amended to change an address, or to add or remove a party, using RTB Form, Other Request to Amend an Application for Dispute Resolution to change address, add or remove a party or remove a claim.

If one party objects to the opposing party’s proposed amendment, the arbitrator will consider whether the amendment would cause any prejudice or result in a breach of procedural fairness. The arbitrator will ultimately decide to:

  • accept the amendment and proceed with the hearing;
  • dismiss the request to amend the application with or without leave to reapply; or
  • adjourn the hearing to allow the other party a chance to respond.

See RTB Policy Guideline 23 and section 4 of the RTB Rules of Procedure for more information.

 

Withdrawing an Application

If you need to withdraw an application for dispute resolution, refer to section 5.0.1 of the RTB Rules of Procedure.

 


 

Previous Legal Decisions

 

  • Successful claim for $500 aggravated damages