A crash course on renters’ rights for students

Know the law: don’t be vulnerable just because you’re a student

Illustration credit, Tiffany Chan

By Winona Young, Peak Associate 

If it is your first time renting solo on an apartment, suite, etc., and landlords are going to hope and pray that you are a stumbling and clueless virgin when it comes to your rights as a renter. A study from our very own SFU has actually shown that renter anxiety is on the rise in Vancouver . . . Luckily, The Peak has helped compile a list of rights that you ought to know as a renter so that you may survive in the jungle that is the BC housing market and can keep as much of your cash as you can.

Rent: a pricey nuisance, not an award-winning musical

Giving rent money is a pain and a half to deal with at the dawn of each new month. If you find yourself paying rent late or potentially facing rent increases, here is what you should know:

  • If you do happen to pay rent late on one particular month (which is a day later than the beginning cycle of each rental period), landlords are able to charge up to $25 (and no more) as a late fee.
  • Non-payment of rent can warrant an eviction that comes with a 10-day notice but you are able “invalidate the eviction notice by simply paying rent within five days of receiving it,” according to British Columbia’s tenant rights.
  • When it comes to increasing rent, the laws are (thankfully) a little more patient and lenient towards renters. Landlords are unable to impose rent increases within 12 months of the first time rent has been payed, or if the rent had already been increased, effective since its initial start. If a landlord wanted to increase your rent, they would need to notify you at least three months in advance of when they would want to put the increase to effect.

Disputes over damage and security deposits? It’s time to d-d-d-duel

If renting in BC was a relationship, paying the deposit would be the equivalent of both putting a ring on it while also getting a prenup. The tricky deal about security deposits is that landlords aren’t actually able to call a scratch on your wall ‘damage’ and take your deposit while you’re halfway out the door, so knowing the rules when it comes to security deposits (and claiming ‘em) is important.

But before we go into security deposits themselves, let’s discuss ‘damage.’ A damage of property is considered as such if the property requires repairs or replacement. If tenants and landlords are still disputing over whether or not property has been damaged, they can contact the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to resolve their dispute. You’re going to want to know the RTB well, as they are the branch of the government that deals with tenancy laws. Otherwise, this is what you should know if you, a renter, have left the property in good shape.

According to Division 5 of BC Laws, at the end of a tenancy both the renter and landlord must participate in a Condition Inspection Report of the premises before a new tenant is able to move in (note that this report is inapplicable to manufactured home sites, only to residential properties.)

The landlord has to offer at least two opportunities for such a meeting, otherwise, if a renter fails to make any of those chances, then the right to attaining a deposit is terminated. A condition report is required that both the tenant and landlord sign unless the tenant has failed to attend such meetings to check conditions together. So if you plan to move out before the year ends, don’t pack up and go, and contact your landlord to avoid being a broke, reclusive chump!

 

What can be a main pain: maintenance and repairs

Accidents and emergencies happen all the time, so be sure that your landlord has provided you a number and a name for an emergency contact, because they are actually required to.

When it comes to maintenance and repairs, landlords need to be relied on for dealing with damage control. So if you find yourself in need of an emergency repair (which does not include by the way: a clogged sink, tub, or toilet, mold around windows, changing locks, or burnt out kitchen equipment), contact your landlord. If they do not respond within two attempts, or respond to you writing a written request of repairs including a description of the repair needed after a reasonable amount of time (a timeframe which is not specified), you are able to contact the RTB. Given that landlords may be busy and you find yourself battling with a leaking pipe or a faulty electrical system, you may need to cover the costs yourself. But don’t worry! Landlords are required to cover costs and repay tenants for emergency repairs, provided tenants keep the receipts and a written description of the problem in question.

 

It’s a ruff world for pet owners

Any student with a weakness for critters who go apartment hunting understand the pain of seeing a ‘no pets allowed’ label on a potential home description. Those with service animals may fret not, because landlords are actually unable to discriminate against candidates with disabilities, especially those who require a service animal.

Aside from that, landlords are able to restrict/prohibit the presence of pets on their property, as well as dictate what size, type, or number of pets are allowed on the premises. When applying to houses, having a pet resume for your critter friend (documents or certificates that prove they are trained, veterinary info, or any other information that paints your pet in a good light) can be very helpful in selling you both as potential renters.

Animal lovers who may try to sneak in a pet or two ought to be wary of doing so in a ‘no pets’ zone. If your landlord defined a rule of ‘no pets’ as a material term and finds you’ve adopted a new pet to your home, this breach of tenancy agreement does not necessarily result in immediate eviction. The landlord must provide the renter with a written warning, also known as a ‘breach letter,’ for the removal of your pet at a specified time frame. Failure to follow such a warning can result in a landlord fairly handing you a one-month eviction notice for your discretion.

 

Conclusion

There are other tips out there, like knowing that landlords are unable to charge a fee for applying to houses, or the fact that unless you and your landlord have explicitly agreed upon a lease on the space you are renting from them, your lease is “automatically [converted] to a month-to-month type tenancy,” according to tenantrights.ca. But so far, we’ve covered most of the key facts you ought to know about home-hunting around BC.

Go off into the depths of Craigslist, Places4Students, or burnaby-apartments.com and find yourself a new home!

If you want to learn more, we used files from bclaws.ca, gov.bc.ca, spca.bc.ca, tenants.bc.ca, and tenantrights.ca.