With the recent switch in provincial leadership, we are beginning to (finally!) see some changes at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and improvements to tenancy laws. The following are some of the recent changes, and what they mean for you as a tenant.
Elimination of Vacate Clauses
In recent years, the TAPS advocates have seen landlords use fixed-term tenancy agreements with “vacate” clauses (where the tenant must vacate the unit at the end of the lease) as a way to get around rent increase restrictions. Normally, in an ongoing tenancy, there are limits on the amount a landlord can raise the rent each year. Fixed-term leases with “vacate” clauses have allowed landlords to force one tenant to “vacate” the unit in order to get a new tenant in with a large rent increase for that unit.
The new legislation no longer allows fixed-term tenancy agreements with “vacate” clauses (with some exceptions, such as sublease agreements.) The new legislation applies to both new and existing tenancy agreements, which means that if you are currently in a lease with a “vacate” clause, this term is likely not enforceable. If, at the end of your fixed-term tenancy, you do not enter into a new fixed-term agreement, the tenancy will automatically continue as a month-to-month agreement.
Fixed-Term Tenancies and Rent Increases
TAPS advocates have also seen landlords use back-to-back fixed-term tenancy agreements to get around rent increase restrictions. Previously, at the end of the fixed-term lease, the landlord would “offer” the tenant a new fixed-term lease, but at a much increased rent. Because the new lease was considered a new tenancy—even though it was the same tenant in the same unit—the rent increase restrictions did not apply. This loophole has been closed, and landlords must now follow rent increase laws with tenants who have back-to-back fixed-term tenancy agreements. As long as you remain in a rental unit, your landlord can only increase the rent every 12 months, must provide proper three months’ written notice, and can only raise the rent within the legal amount (in 2018 that amount is 4%).
Online Dispute Resolution Hearing Applications
The Residential Tenancy Branch has launched a new online system for applying for dispute resolution hearings. The process is more detailed than before and now allows you to upload documents, including evidence documents, directly into the system. You will need to create a BCeID account. Make sure you have reliable access to email if you apply online, as important documents will be sent to you by e-mail, and you will need to act on certain instructions quickly.
The RTB is strongly encouraging everyone to apply for dispute resolution online, but Service BC offices are still required to accept paper applications and hard copy evidence for dispute resolution.
Another change at the RTB regards fee waivers. Usually, it costs $100 every time you apply for dispute resolution. However, if your income is under $1700 per month, you can get this fee waived and do not have to pay anything to apply. This part has stayed the same, and they have added a type of fee waiver called “extraordinary expenses”. If you usually have over $1700 a month in income but have had an unexpected expense that would make paying the $100 fee a hardship, you can now apply for a fee waiver by filling out a form and including proof of the unexpected situation you were faced with. The RTB considers eligible unexpected situations to be:
- extraordinary medical expenses
- transportation costs for medically necessary procedures not available in your community
- funeral expenses
- costs associated with an emergency such as a fire, flood, earthquake, landslide or avalanche
More RTB Staff
In an attempt to reduce wait times for hearings and reduce backlogs on the information line, the RTB has committed to hiring 30 new staff, including new arbitrators and information officers. The RTB is setting up a new compliance unit aimed at taking action against landlords (and tenants) who demonstrate serious and/or repeat non-compliance with tenancy laws.
We hope that these changes are the first of many improvements to the tenancy system and renters’ rights in BC. If you have any questions about your rights, TAPS’ tenant legal advocates can be reached at 250-361-3521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.