Who has more rights – landlords or tenants? The question becomes ever more relevant, and tested, as real estate prices soar in the region, with renting the only housing solution for many people. In a special two-part series, The News takes an in-depth look at both sides of the issue. Next week, the tenants’ side will be presented.
Brendan Carr was in a panic to rent out his apartment.
He had bought the place in Mission a few years earlier but moved to a new residence to be closer to work. Due to the economic downturn at the time, he would have lost money if he had sold, so he’d been renting it out.
But now his first tenants, a nice couple who kept up the place, were moving out and he couldn’t afford to lose a month’s rent while paying for his own place.
When the single mom of two young children answered his online ad, he was quick to accept her story.
The woman said she had been living with a friend but quickly needed a place of her own. She said she couldn’t provide a reference because she had a conflict with her previous landlord and he had wrongfully withheld her damage deposit.
Brendan thought she seemed nice, and he wanted to help her out so he accepted her as his new tenant.
Within a few weeks, he began getting calls from the woman’s neighbours in the 40-unit building.
The tenant had been having friends over at all hours, and they made a lot of noise, as they hung out on the patio, smoking cigarettes and marijuana.
Brendan talked to the woman, who said she had a prescription for medical marijuana, and she agreed to keep the noise and smoking to a minimum.
The situation improved for a period, but picked up again – and worsened. Police were called a few times to deal with the noise complaints. On one occasion, there had been a fight, resulting in a hole being punched in the wall.
As the owner of the suite, Brendan was fined $50 by the building’s strata council. A subsequent fine would have been $250.
Police held a meeting with the building’s occupants to inform them about their options, including the “crime-free multi-level housing initiative” through which a landlord can have a criminal background check of potential tenants.
Finally, Brendan had enough “just cause” – including documentation from police and the strata council – to evict the woman.
He followed the correct steps in issuing the woman a 30-day eviction notice.
About a week later, Brendan gave the tenant 18 hours’ notice that he needed to inspect the apartment for any damages.
He was appalled at the condition of the suite. The carpets were filthy, and garbage was strewn about.
In the meantime, Brendan advertised for a new tenant, this time ensuring he didn’t rush the process. He settled on Richard, a retired older man who had lived in his own home for 20 years but was splitting up from his wife.
When he showed Richard the suite, he assured him that the carpets would be cleaned – or replaced entirely – before the move.
On the woman’s moving day, she loaded up a pickup truck with her items and said she would be back for the rest. She never returned.
The tenant left behind several items, including bags of garbage, a TV cabinet and a bicycle, and she had not done any cleaning.
Brendan discovered the worst of it when he opened the walk-in storage closet by the front door. Behind a crib was a pile of dirty diapers about a foot and a half deep.
Richard was due to move in the next day, but Brendan called him and said he would put him up in a hotel for another night so that the suite could be thoroughly cleaned.
Brendan hauled all the garbage to the dump, had the carpets professionally cleaned twice, and repainted the entire unit – at a cost higher than the woman’s $350 damage deposit had been.
Richard has now lived in the apartment for about four years, and Brendan said he is the best tenant anyone could hope for. Richard has even been over to Brendan’s home for a barbecue.
Brendan, who lives with his fiance and two kids, said his experience with his former tenant has taught him a valuable lesson about being a landlord – that being out of pocket for a few weeks is better than facing the worst-case scenario.
“Always vet the people moving in. If they have a story that sounds even a little bit off, it’s probably worth following up on, or take a pass,” he said.
He feels lucky that the woman didn’t destroy the suite further once she was given an eviction notice.
However, although he believes that in some situations tenants have too many rights, he says “at the same time, the tenants need to be protected from bad landlords.”
Most common disputes about money issues
The occupants of seven rental units on an Abbotsford property were given two months’ notice to vacate, with each being told that their suites had been sold and “the purchaser or close family member” was planning to move in.
The tenants later learned that the corporate purchaser of the 11-acre property – which contains assisted-living facilities, seniors’ housing and subsidized housing – instead wanted those suites vacant so renovation work could occur.
The tenants took the matter to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to seek a cancellation of their two-month notices – and won.
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a two-month notice to vacate can be given when a family member is moving in, but the tenants in this case pointed out that the buyer had lied as “one person cannot physically occupy several suites at the same time.”
The RTB stated that when a buyer plans to renovate a property, the sale must first be completed and all necessary permits obtained before the two-month notice can be issued.
The branch declared the notices invalid, and the tenants were allowed to remain until the proper steps were followed.
This case was among 583 Abbotsford landlord-tenant disputes handled by the RTB in 2014.
The branch provides information about the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants and offers a dispute resolution service.
Jeff Vassey, assistant deputy minister for the B.C. government’s Office of Housing and Construction Standards, said the most common types of disputes involve money.
“Landlords commonly apply to the branch seeking an order that the tenant pay outstanding rent or an order that allows the landlord to keep all or part of a tenant’s security deposit to cover the cost of damage to the rental unit,” he said.
“Tenants commonly apply seeking an order that the landlord provide them with monetary compensation for damage or loss, or an order that the landlord return all or part of the security deposit to the tenant.”
Vassey said another common reason is a dispute over possession of the rental unit. Landlords want to evict a tenant for just cause or for unpaid rent, while the tenant wants the eviction notice cancelled.
Of the 583 Abbotsford-related cases the RTB handled in 2014, 385 were from landlords and 198 were from tenants.
In 202 of those cases, the landlord was successful, while the tenant won in only 30 cases. (The remainder resulted in a split decision, a settled decision in which both sides agreed on an outcome during the hearing, or a dismissal of the application.)
The average length for an Abbotsford-based dispute to be resolved in 2014 was 46 days.
Vassey said a person’s success in the dispute resolution process is dependent on how well they can support their position, using evidence that is “well-documented and well-organized.”
“In other words, it is not enough for a landlord or a tenant to be correct in their actions; they must be able to demonstrate this to the arbitrator,” he said.
Vassey said the procedure is similar to a court proceeding. Documents and evidence should be submitted with the application or as soon as possible afterwards, and copies should be given to the other party.
The RTB education team is available to provide public information sessions for landlords and tenants. This can be requested by emailing HSRTO@gov.bc.ca, with “Information Session” in the subject line.
For more information about landlord/tenant rights or the dispute resolution process, visit the RTB website at gov.bc.ca/landlordtenant.