Beginning a new tenancy can involve many different steps and procedures. As outlined in the Residential Tenancy Act, both landlords and tenants have rights as well as responsibilities throughout this process. The following are some points that may be useful when you are entering into a new tenancy agreement.
Protection under the Law
The Residential Tenancy Act (the Act) is the provincial legislation that sets out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. It is important to know what your living arrangement will constitute, as not all renters are protected by the Act.
The Act likely applies to those who:
• Have a rental agreement and pay rent to a landlord who does not live with them.
• Live in a rooming house and do not share facilities (bathroom and kitchen) with the owner.
• Live in a hotel as their primary residence, including single room occupancy hotels (SRO).
• Rent both a manufactured home and the pad it sits on.
• Live in non-profit or subsidized housing (although different rules regarding rent increases and evictions may apply).
The Act likely does not apply to those who:
• Live with the owner of the rental unit and share facilities (bathroom and kitchen).
• Own a manufactured home but rent the pad.
• Live in a housing co-op and are a member of the co-op.
• Live in vacation or travel accommodation.
• Live in mental health or other health care facilities.
In situations where the Act does not apply, renters may be protected by other legislations such as the Manufactured Home Park Act, the Hotel Keepers Act, or the Community Care Facility Act.
Landlords choose to have prospective tenants apply for housing in a variety of ways. While some prefer formal application processes, others may just want to have a casual conversation. Either way, landlords may ask you for information in order to determine your eligibility for a rental property.
When providing information or consenting to background checks, be careful to read and understand what it is that you are consenting to.
Some examples of information that a landlord might ask for are:
• Identification: According to the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC, it is reasonable for a landlord to request to see identification in order to verify an applicant’s identity. However, a landlord may not write down or copy the information on a driver’s license, as this information is not relevant for determining the suitability of a potential tenant.
• References: A landlord may require prospective tenants to provide past landlord and/or employment references. The information that is shared between the parties must only include information necessary for assessing the suitability of a potential tenant, such as rent payment history.
• Credit check: The BC Personal Information Protection Act and the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act allow a landlord to conduct a credit check for a person entering into a tenancy agreement only with the tenant’s written consent.
• Social Insurance Number (SIN): The Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC advises that potential tenants do not disclose their SIN because it is not necessary for obtaining a credit check, as landlords may claim.
While landlords can only request information that is reasonably necessary for making a decision about accepting you as a tenant, it is ultimately up to you to decide whether you wish to disclose personal information. If you have concerns about a request made by a landlord, you can contact the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC (www.oipc.bc.ca; 250-387-5629; 4th floor – 947 Fort Street, Victoria).
Making an Agreement
A tenant enters into a legally binding tenancy agreement once they agree to accept a tenancy either verbally or in writing, or when a landlord accepts a security deposit. These procedures confirm a tenant’s commitment and make them subject to all of the rights and responsibilities legislated in the Residential Tenancy Act.
Before making an agreement, be sure to understand what you are agreeing to! Are you allowed to have a pet? Does the rent include utilities? Is it a month-to-month tenancy or are you agreeing to a fixed term? Both parties should sign the agreement and initial beside any changes, additions, or alterations that are made to the agreement. As well, make sure to get a copy – it may serve as a useful reference or evidence should any disagreements about the tenancy agreement come up down the road. Landlords are obligated to provide a copy of the agreement no later than 21 days after it is signed.
Fees and Deposits
There are several different fees and deposits that a landlord may ask for:
• A security deposit is a sum of money held in trust as part of an agreement between tenant and landlord. A landlord cannot ask for a deposit that exceeds half of a month’s rent. While most landlords will request the security deposit at the start of a tenancy, tenants actually have 30 days from the start date to pay the security deposit.
• Pet deposits are also one-time deposits that are used by landlords when damage is caused by pets. Pet deposits must not exceed the equivalent of one half of a month’s rent.
• A landlord can charge an extra deposit for access devices such as extra keys or electric garage door openers.
• Application fees: The Residential Tenancy Act stipulates that landlords are not allowed to charge fees as part of an application process.
Move-in Condition Inspection
Agreeing to and participating in a condition inspection is important because it can have an impact on a tenant’s right to the return of a security and/or pet deposit at the end of a tenancy. Accordingly, the Residential Tenancy Act sets out specific guidelines regarding move-in condition inspections:
• A landlord and tenant must inspect the condition of the unit together either on the day that the tenant takes possession or on another agreed-upon day.
• The landlord has an obligation to offer the tenant at least two opportunities for an inspection.
• The right of a tenant to the return of a security deposit is extinguished if the landlord has provided opportunities for inspection and the tenant has not participated.
• The right of a landlord to claim against a security deposit for damages is extinguished if the landlord does not provide two opportunities, does not participate in the inspection, or does not complete the form and give a copy to the tenant.
• Make sure to specify whether you agree or disagree that the report fairly represents the condition of the rental unit. This information may be useful at the time of move-out and in regards to the return of your security deposit.
Understanding tenancy laws and your rights and responsibilities as a tenant can be complicated. For more information, ask to speak with a tenant advocate at TAPS: 250-361-3521, #302-895 Fort Street.