Repairs and Maintenance
Much of BC’s purpose-built rental housing is aging and in need on ongoing maintenance. As a result, repairs is the second most common issue facing BC tenants, trailing only eviction. According to section 32(1) of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), landlords must ensure that their rental properties:
- comply with health, housing, and safety standards required by law; and
- are suitable for occupation – factoring in the age, character, and location of the unit.
Landlords are generally responsible for the following repair and maintenance issues:
- heating, plumbing, and electricity;
- walls, floors, and ceilings;
- locks, keys, access devices, and intercoms;
- light fixtures in common areas;
- fire doors, fire escapes, and smoke detectors;
- painting at reasonable intervals;
- cleaning the outside of windows at reasonable intervals;
- routine yard maintenance, such as cutting grass and clearing snow, in multi-unit complexes;
- tree cutting and pruning;
- insect and pest infestations, such as bed bugs;
- serious mold issues; and
- anything else that has been included as part of a tenancy agreement, such as appliances.
Smoke detectors: The BC Building Code requires that smoke alarms be installed in properties where people sleep, including rental units. Additionally, Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Policy Guideline 1 says the following:
If there are smoke detectors, or if they are required by law, the landlord must install and keep smoke alarms in good working condition. Regular maintenance includes: annual inspection of the system, annual cleaning and testing of the alarm, and replacing batteries at least annually and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Asking for Repairs
Notify your landlord in writing as soon as possible when something in your rental unit needs to be fixed. See TRAC’s template letter, Repairs and Maintenance. If you delay and the problem gets worse, you could be held responsible for at least some of the related costs – even if the original problem was not your fault. For example, if you do not promptly report bed bugs and the infestation spreads, you may have to help pay for the treatment.
For all types of repairs, it is important to document not only the problem that needs to be fixed, but also your attempts to notify your landlord in writing. If they refuse to address the issue within a reasonable period, the next step is to apply for a repair order through the Residential Tenancy Branch’s dispute resolution service. If you can submit clear and relevant evidence such as photos, videos, and complaint letters, an arbitrator can order your landlord to make the repair. In addition, you can apply for monetary compensation from your landlord for ignoring your written request, as well as a rent reduction until the repair has been completed.
According to section 32(2) of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA),
tenants must maintain reasonable health, cleanliness, and sanitary standards in their rental unit. For example, tenants are generally responsible for the following:
- reasonable maintenance of carpets;
- wiping or vacuuming baseboards and baseboard heaters to remove dust and dirt;
- removal of garbage from the rental unit;
- replacing light bulbs and standard fuses; and
- routine yard maintenance, such as cutting grass and clearing snow, if you have exclusive use of the yard.
See your tenancy agreement and RTB Policy Guideline 1 for more information.
Wear and Tear
Even the most well-behaved tenant can live in a rental unit that starts falling apart over time. Tenants are not required to make repairs for “reasonable wear and tear”, which according to Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Policy Guideline 1, “refers to natural deterioration that occurs due to aging and other natural forces, where the tenant has used the premises in a reasonable fashion.” If your landlord claims that you caused damage beyond reasonable wear and tear, you can state your disagreement on the move-out condition inspection report.
Tenants are responsible for damage beyond reasonable wear and tear, such as an excessive number of nail holes in a wall. If you, a co-tenant, or a guest has caused damage to your rental unit, it is usually safest to contact your landlord and work out a plan for how the repair will be completed, rather than take on the repair yourself.
Useful life of building elements: RTB Policy Guideline 40 provides a general guide for determining the “useful life” of building elements. For example, carpets are listed at 10 years and stoves are listed at 15 years. It is important to refer to this resource in situations where a tenant has caused damage to a rental unit, and the landlord is seeking monetary compensation. If a tenant damages a five-year old carpet to the point where it needs to be replaced, a landlord may assume that they are entitled to the full cost of replacement. However, using Policy Guideline 40 as a reference, the tenant can argue – either in negotiations or at dispute resolution – that they should only be responsible for half the cost, since the carpet was already halfway through its useful life.
Improving Your Rental Unit
If you want to make changes to your rental unit, such as painting the walls, ask your landlord for written consent. Making changes without permission could result in you owing your landlord some money, or having to restore the unit back to its original condition before moving out.
There is a specific definition for “emergency repairs” in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). For a repair to be considered an emergency, it must be all three of the following:
- necessary for the health or safety of people or property; and
- made for the purpose of repairing one of the following:
- major leaks in pipes or the roof
- damaged or blocked water or sewer pipes or plumbing fixtures
- the primary heating system
- damaged or defective locks that give access to a rental unit
- the electrical systems
Your landlord must provide you with an emergency contact number in writing, or post it in a common area of your rental property. If you come across a repair issue that meets the RTA’s definition of “emergency”, try calling the contact number at least twice, leaving a reasonable amount of time between each attempt.
If you are unable to reach the emergency contact person, you have the right to pay for the repair and ask your landlord for reimbursement. See TRAC’s template letter, Reimbursement for Emergency Repairs. If you choose this option, do your best to find a fair price by researching multiple companies. To reduce the chances of a future dispute with your landlord, make sure to keep a record of all receipts, research efforts, and written correspondence related to the repair.
Taking on an emergency repair can be complicated and expensive. If you do not have the time or money to deal with the repair yourself, or you are worried that you may not follow the proper steps, apply for dispute resolution to request an emergency repair order. The Residential Tenancy Branch considers emergency repairs a top priority when scheduling hearings.
The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) states in general terms that landlords must comply with health, safety, and housing standards required by law, but it does not do a good job of explaining what exactly that means. For a more detailed description of your landlord’s legal responsibility to repair and maintain your rental property, you will need to research one of your City’s bylaws – usually referred to as a “Standards of Maintenance” or “Good Neighbour” bylaw. These local laws go into greater detail than the RTA on heating systems, hot water, infestations, exterior walls, roofing, elevators, fire escapes, etc. If your landlord is refusing to make certain repairs, your City might be willing to send a Bylaw Officer to inspect your property, issue warnings and fines to your landlord, or otherwise enforce the bylaw. Alternatively, the bylaw could be used as evidence at a Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) dispute resolution hearing.
Unfortunately, not all Cities have Standards of Maintenance / Good Neighbour bylaws, and some City bylaws are better than others. See below for a list of such bylaws from around the province.
Illegal Secondary Suites: If your City finds out that you live in an illegal secondary suite, they could force your landlord to evict you by using a One Month Eviction Notice for Cause under section 47(1)(k) of the RTA. For this reason, if your landlord refuses to make repairs to your illegal suite, your safest legal option may be to apply for a repair order through the RTB. Illegal secondary suites are covered under the RTA and the RTB will not inform your City that you are living in one.
Cities with Standards of Maintenance Bylaws
“Radon gas is an invisible, odourless, radioactive gas resulting from the breakdown of uranium in rock and soil. When radon is released from the ground and into outdoor spaces, it is diluted and is not dangerous. However, radon also enters indoor spaces through openings such as cracks in the foundation and walls, floor drains, or window casements and can building up over time. When people breath in radon gas, radiation can damage lung cells. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, killing over 3,000 people a year in Canada. However, it is easily tested and fixed. Since 2007 Health Canada has recognized indoor radon as a significant health problem, setting guidelines for indoor concentrations at 200 Bq/m3.”
If you are interested in asking your landlord to test for radon in your rental unit, you can use this template letter that the BC Lung Foundation has created.
To learn more about this important topic, visit the BC Lung Foundation’s webpage, Radon and Renters.
- Tenant awarded compensation for repair issues