Repairs and Maintenance
Much of the province’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), rental properties must comply with health, safety, and housing standards required by law.
Landlords are generally responsible for the following repair and maintenance issues:
- light fixtures in common areas;
- walls, floors, and ceilings;
- fire doors and fire escapes;
- smoke alarms;
- painting at reasonable intervals;
- routine yard maintenance, such as cutting grass and clearing snow, in multi-unit residential complexes;
- infestations and pests, such as bed bugs;
- serious mold issues; and
- anything included in your tenancy agreement, such as the:
- laundry facilities
- security system
- storage facilities
Asking for repairs: When something needs to be fixed in your rental unit, let your landlord know in writing as soon as possible. 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 associated costs – even if the original problem was not your fault. For example, if you do not immediately report bed bugs and the infestation spreads, you may have to pay for at least some of the treatment.
It is important to document the repair issue and your attempts to contact your landlord. If your landlord refuses to fix the problem, you will have to apply for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). Having evidence that shows the issue, and that you informed your landlord of the issue – such as letters, photos, videos, and witnesses – will increase your chances of obtaining an order requiring your landlord to make the repair. You can also apply for monetary compensation from your landlord for ignoring your request, as well as a rent reduction until the repair has been completed.
Smoke alarms: 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.
According to section 32(2) of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), you have a legal responsibility to maintain reasonable health, cleanliness, and sanitary standards in your rental unit. Tenants are generally responsible for the following repair and maintenance issues:
- reasonable maintenance of carpets during the tenancy;
- steam cleaning or shampooing the carpets at the end of tenancies lasting one year or longer;
- steam cleaning or shampooing the carpets at the end of tenancies of any length involving pets or smoking;
- cleaning marks on the walls;
- removal of garbage from the rental unit;
- replacing light bulbs;
- routine yard maintenance, such as cutting grass and clearing snow, if you have exclusive use of the yard;
- minor mold issues; and
- repairing excessive damage from nail holes.
See your tenancy agreement and RTB Policy Guideline 1 for more information.
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.
Wear and tear: Even the most well-behaved and respectful tenants can live in rental units that start falling apart due to old age. According to section 32(4) of the RTA, you are not responsible for wear and tear that results from reasonable use of your rental unit. However, there is a difference between “reasonable wear and tear” and “damage”. Reasonable wear and tear refers to deterioration due to aging or other natural forces. If you, your guests, or your pets cause damage beyond wear and tear, such as a broken window, you are responsible for that damage. Contact your landlord and work out a solution for how the repair will be completed. In most cases, your landlord will ask for money to hire a qualified professional. See RTB Policy Guideline 1 for more information.
For a repair to be considered an “emergency” as defined by section 33 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), 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 is required to give you an emergency contact number in writing, or post it in a common area of your building. If your situation meets the RTA definition of an “emergency”, try calling the emergency contact number at least twice, leaving a reasonable amount of time in between each attempt.
If you are unable to reach the emergency contact person, you have the right to cover the cost of the repair and ask your landlord to pay you back. 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 copies of your research efforts, receipts, and related written communication.
Dispute resolution: Taking on emergency repairs can be complicated and expensive. If you do not have the money or time to deal with the repairs 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) is the most important law for you to understand, but it is not the only law that applies to tenants and landlords in BC. This is especially true when it comes to repairing and maintaining rental properties. Although the RTA states in general terms that landlords must comply with health, safety, and housing standards required by law, it does not do a good job of explaining what 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 for a repair order 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
- Tenant awarded compensation for repair issues