Although verbal tenancy agreements are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), it is always best to have a written agreement with your landlord. Signing a hardcopy contract is one of the best ways you can protect yourself as a tenant, since it proves the terms you agreed to at the start of your tenancy. Your landlord may use the standard Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) tenancy agreement, or they may use their own custom tenancy agreement. If they choose to use their own agreement, it must have all the standard information required by law – just like the RTB agreement. See section 12 of the RTA and section 13 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation for more information.
Carefully review your tenancy agreement before signing it. If English is not your first language, consider showing it to a friend, family member, or legal advocate. Once you have entered into a tenancy, section 13(3) of the RTA requires your landlord to provide you with a copy of the agreement within 21 days. If your landlord refuses to provide you with a copy of your agreement, use TRAC’s template letter, Copy of Tenancy Agreement. Keep your copy in a safe place and take photos for added protection. If your landlord tries changing any terms of your tenancy, it will be difficult to prove what was originally agreed to without a copy of your agreement.
According to section 13 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), every tenancy agreement is supposed to include:
- the standard terms – listed on the Residential Tenancy Branch’s (RTB) standard tenancy agreement and in the Schedule of the Residential Tenancy Regulation (RTR);
- the names of the tenant(s) and landlord(s);
- the address of the rental unit;
- the date the agreement is entered into;
- the address and telephone number of the landlord or landlord’s agent;
- the date the tenancy will start;
- the tenancy period – whether it is on a weekly, monthly, or other basis;
- if a fixed term tenancy, the date on which the tenancy ends;
- if a fixed term tenancy with a “vacate clause”, the date on which the tenant must vacate;
- the amount of rent;
- how much rent varies depending on the number of occupants;
- when rent is due;
- what services and facilities are included in rent; and
- the amount of security deposit or pet damage deposit required, and the date it was or must be paid.
Section 5 of the RTA prevents landlords and tenants from “contracting out” of the law. In other words, if you sign a tenancy agreement with a term that unfairly reduces your rights as a tenant, that term may be considered unenforceable. For example, it is illegal for a landlord to include a term in an agreement that allows them to inspect a tenant’s home at any time without proper notice. Section 29 of the RTA clearly states that landlords must give at least 24 hours notice in writing, and that rule cannot be avoided.
Section 6 of the RTA prevents landlords from including “unconscionable” terms in tenancy agreements. According to section 3 of the RTR and RTB Policy Guideline 8, an unconscionable term is as a term that is oppressive or grossly unfair to one party. For example, RTB Policy Guideline 1 says that it is likely unconscionable for a landlord to include a term in an agreement that requires a tenant to put utilities for another unit in their name.
See TRAC’s webpage, Fees, for more information.
A month-to-month tenancy does not have a pre-determined date on which it ends. The tenancy continues until the tenant gives proper notice to move out, or until the landlord legally ends the tenancy. Section 1 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) refers to a month-to-month tenancy as a “periodic tenancy”. Month-to-month tenancies are by far the most common type of periodic tenancy, but a tenancy can also be established on a weekly or other periodic basis.
Pros: Month-to-month tenancies offer flexibility. If your life takes an unexpected turn that requires you to move, you are only required to provide one-month notice in writing to end your tenancy.
Cons: Month-to-month tenancies leave you vulnerable to evictions for “landlord’s use”. If your landlord wants to occupy your rental unit, allow a “close family member” to occupy the unit, make major renovations, or demolish your building, they can issue you a Two Month or Four Month Eviction Notice for Landlord’s Use of Property under section 49 of the RTA.
A fixed term tenancy – often referred to as a “lease” – has a pre-determined date on which the tenancy ends or is up for renewal – most commonly after one year. If you enter into a fixed term tenancy, pay close attention to what your agreement says happens at the end of the term. There are three possibilities:
- You must vacate at the end of the fixed term: This type of “vacate clause” can only be used in limited circumstances listed in section 13.1 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation, or when a subtenant is signing a temporary sublease. If you have this type of fixed term tenancy, you must move out at the end of the term and you are not entitled to any compensation.
- The tenancy may continue on a month-to-month or another fixed term basis: You and your landlord can mutually agree to extend your tenancy for another fixed term. However, if you would prefer that your tenancy instead continue on a month-to-month basis, your landlord cannot force you to renew the agreement on a fixed term basis. If you do not want your tenancy to continue on either a month-to-month or fixed term basis because you plan to move out at the end of the term, you must provide your landlord with one full month notice in writing.
- The tenancy agreement does not say what will happen at the end of the fixed term: According to section 44(3) of the RTA, if your tenancy agreement is silent on the matter, it will automatically continue on a month-to-month basis, unless you and your landlord mutually agree to renew on a fixed term basis. Again, if you plan to move out at the end of the fixed term, you must provide one full month notice in writing.
Pros: Fixed term tenancies offer stability. For the duration of your agreement, you cannot be evicted because of a Two Month or Four Month Eviction Notice for Landlord’s Use of Property.
Cons: Fixed term tenancies provide less flexibility than month-to-month tenancies. If you need to end your tenancy early – also known as “breaking your lease” – you may end up owing your landlord some money.
See Residential Tenancy Branch Policy Guideline 30 for more information.
The maximum amount a landlord can charge for either a security deposit or pet damage deposit is half the monthly rent. See TRAC’s webpage, Deposits, for more information.
Aside from the exceptions listed in section 14(3) of the Residential Tenancy Act, the terms of a tenancy agreement can only be changed by mutual consent. If you and your landlord both agree to a change, feel free to amend your existing agreement. For example, you can cross out a term, enter a new one, add the date, and both initial the change. Alternatively, you can sign an addendum on a separate sheet of paper that outlines the agreed upon change. Either way, make sure that you receive a copy of the revised tenancy agreement or addendum.
If your landlord attempts to change a term in your tenancy agreement without your consent, you can use TRAC’s template letter, Illegal Term in Tenancy Agreement, to inform them that you do not accept their proposed change and will continue to follow your existing agreement.
- Utilities for multi-unit house in tenant’s name is unconscionable