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. To read the first part of the series, click here.
Nadege Mckenzie considers herself an ideal tenant.
She pays her rent three months in advance, doesn’t make a lot of noise and takes care of the property.
She has had good landlords who have promptly addressed any concerns with her residence, whether it’s a plugged sink, a wonky door or a flickering light.
But Nadege is still upset and frustrated with circumstances that occurred when she was living in an Abbotsford apartment building last year.
Nadege – a hairstylist who also works at the help desk at Abbotsford Regional Hospital – and her daughter Aeva, now 5, moved into the first-floor suite in September 2013 and all was well until seven months later.
In April 2014, a pipe burst in the ceiling in the hallway just outside of Nadege’s unit.
The building manager was away on vacation at the time, and tenants placed buckets in the hall to catch the drips.
Nadege soon noticed water marks staining the walls.
Upon her return from vacation, the manager hired someone to to fix the faulty pipe. Nadege says that person told her the whole system needed to be replaced because it was too old, and a similar incident could occur.
One month later, his words proved true when the pipe burst again about one foot from the previous spot.
Nadege, who was not in her suite at the time, returned home for the evening and noticed that the ceiling and walls were wet, and the carpets were drenched.
Two days later, the buckets that had been placed in the hallway had been removed, and Nadege assumed the issue had been addressed.
Within days, the place began to smell mouldy, and she complained to the manager that the carpets were still wet.
She was assured they would be replaced.
Nadege says about two months later, she noticed black mould spots growing on the wall just outside her apartment door. She looked beneath her dishwasher, which was on the other side of the wall, and could see mould growing against the inside wall.
Her daughter began to get sick in July – five months after the first burst pipe – and her symptoms included laboured breathing. Nadege, too, became ill with throat issues, coughing and a rash.
She says her doctor thought the mould problems could be contributing to their health issues, and she phoned the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) for advice.
It was recommended she write a letter to the manager, indicating she wanted the mould issues fixed within a reasonable time frame and that she would be withholding her rent in the meantime.
Nadege first contacted the manager to further express her concerns, but she said all that was done was the mould was “scraped” from the wall in the hallway.
Nadege then sent the manager a letter in mid-August, providing a one-month deadline for the mould to be removed, including that the drywall and baseboards be stripped and replaced.
That was never done in the time she lived there. A friend of hers who still lives in the building told her recently that the carpets had been replaced only two months ago, and the mould issue has still not been addressed.
Nadege was issued an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. She disputed the eviction before the tenancy branch, but she says the evidence package she sent – including letters, texts and photos – was not received, and the arbitrator ruled against her.
Nadege complied with an order to pay the rent she had withheld and, once her lease was up in October, she gave her one-month notice to move.
She has been living since last November in a basement suite on a rural property. She and Aeva are happy there and have good landlords, she says.
Nadege now wants to take the previous management company to small claims court to get back the rent she had previously withheld, saying she was treated unfairly.
“I haven’t been frustrated like this in a long time … In my opinion, I did everything right.”
A News phone call to the management company was not returned.
The law for tenants and landlords
• Rent must be paid in full and on time by midnight on the due date.
• The tenant can withhold rent only in certain situations, including when the landlord illegally increases the rent, has overcharged for a security or pet-damage deposit or refuses a written request for reimbursement of emergency repairs.
• When planning to move, a tenant must give written notice of at least one month before the effective date and before the day that rent is due.
• Tenants can dispute an eviction within 10 days of receiving the notice by applying to the Residential Tenancy Branch. The eviction is then suspended until an arbitrator makes a decision.
• A landlord can give a 10-day notice to end tenancy if rent or utilities are not paid by midnight on the due date. This notice may be served the day after rent is due, or 30 days after giving a written demand for a utility payment.
• The notice is cancelled and the tenancy can continue if the tenant pays all the rent and utilities within five days of receiving the notice.
• Landlords must provide two months’ notice to end a tenancy if they plan to move in or have a close family member move in to the residence, or if they plan to do major construction.
• A one-month notice can be given for “just cause” – such as paying the rent late at least three times, causing extraordinary damage or conducting illegal activity.
• The rent can only be increased once a year, with the allowable increase for 2015 set at 2.5 per cent. The tenant must receive three months’ written notice of the increase.
• A landlord cannot remove or limit access to any of the tenant’s personal property, unless the court provides written permission or the landlord has followed the required procedures for abandoned property.
• A landlord who wants to access the rental unit must give a tenant 24 hours’ written notice with the date, time and purpose.
For more information, visit gov.bc.ca/landlordtenant or call 604-660-1020
Rental housing in Abbotsford
• Number of renter households: 11,870
• Average rent plus utilities: $866
• Average portion of income spent on rent and utilities: 21 per cent
• Share of renter households spending more than 30 per cent of their income: 39 per cent
• Households spending more than 50 per cent: 19 per cent