2017 Wildfires Frequently Asked Questions

Have you been affected by the 2017 Wildfires?  Visit the Government of BC Wildfire Status page for important updates and information.

This information can be viewed as one complete document.

These are difficult times.  While the law provides mechanisms to settle disputes, landlords and tenants are encouraged to work together and find ways to keep everyone involved safe and secure. 

Serving documents during an evacuation can be challenging.  The Director of the Residential Tenancy Branch has issued an order regarding substituted service for addresses for service affected by evacuation orders and suspension of Canada Post delivery services.

The Director issued a Practice Directive to provide guidance to arbitrators on requests for an extension of time for Applications for Dispute Resolution filed during the time when evacuation orders and suspension of Canada Post delivery services may be in place. 

Despite this Practice Directive, the Residential Tenancy Branch cannot extend the time limit to apply for dispute resolution to dispute a Notice to End Tenancy beyond the effective date of the notice and may not extend the time limit for a tenant to pay overdue rent without the agreement of the landlord or unless the tenant has deducted the unpaid amount because the tenant believed that the deduction was allowed for emergency repairs or under an order of the director.

 

2. What should be done if the rental unit was damaged in the fire?  Can the tenancy agreement be broken?

If a rental unit or manufactured home park has been damaged by fire, but remains inhabitable, the tenant should inform their landlord in writing of any damage to the rental unit or manufactured home park, so that the landlord has a reasonable opportunity to make repairs.

If the unit or manufactured home park was damaged to the point that it is uninhabitable, the tenancy agreement could be “frustrated.”  This means it is not possible for the tenant to continue living in the unit or manufactured home park through no fault of either the landlord or the tenant.  

A tenant who believes the tenancy agreement has been frustrated should inform their landlord in writing that they are treating the tenancy agreement as frustrated.  If the landlord agrees that the tenancy agreement is frustrated, then the tenancy is ended and the tenant does not have to continue paying rent.  It is advisable to get this agreement in writing.

The landlord would be required to return any rent paid for renting the unit or site after the tenancy agreement was frustrated.  For example, if rent was paid on the 1st and the tenancy was frustrated on the 5th, the landlord would be required to reimburse the tenant for pro-rated amounts for rent from the 6th to the end of the month.  If the landlord does not reimburse this amount, the tenant may make an Application for Dispute Resolution seeking compensation for damage or loss under the Act, regulation or tenancy agreement.

For residential tenancies, the landlord would be required to return the security deposit and pet damage deposit after the tenant provides their forwarding address in writing—this address can be the address of a trusted friend or family member.

Document the condition of the property with photos and video in case there is a dispute about whether the tenancy is frustrated.

If the landlord believes the tenancy agreement has been frustrated, but the tenant does not agree, the landlord may make an Application for Dispute Resolution for an order of possession: tenancy frustrated under section 56.1 of the Residential Tenancy Act or section 49.1 of the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act.

If the landlord disagrees that the tenancy agreement is frustrated and the tenant has stopped paying rent, the landlord may make an Application for Dispute Resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch to claim compensation for unpaid rent and, for residential tenancies, to keep some or all of the security deposit.  The tenant may make a cross-application if they believe they are owed monies or, for residential tenancies, believe the landlord should not keep your security deposit or pet damage deposit.  Both the tenant and landlord should be prepared to provide proof of the condition of the unit or manufactured home park and what caused the tenancy to be frustrated.

If the landlord believes the tenancy agreement has been frustrated, but the tenant does not agree, the landlord may make an Application for Dispute Resolution for an order of possession: tenancy frustrated under section 56.1 of the Residential Tenancy Act or section 49.1 of the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act.

The landlord must provide and maintain the rental unit or manufactured home park in a state of decoration or repair that complies with the health, safety and housing standards required by law.  In most cases, the landlord, or the landlord’s insurance company, will pay for repairs to the unit or manufactured home park.  In a manufactured home park the landlord is usually not responsible to pay the tenant for loss of the manufactured home and in a residential tenancy the landlord is usually not responsible for the tenant’s loss of personal property in the rental unit.

There is no set period for a landlord to repair a rental unit or manufactured home park, unless ordered to make repairs by the Residential Tenancy Branch or another agency.  However, landlords should attempt to repair the unit or park within a reasonable time.

Tenants who are unable to use all or part of their rental unit for a period of time can make an Application for Dispute Resolution either for compensation for loss of unit, to obtain a rent reduction or to end the tenancy.  If tenants believe it is taking too long to repair the unit they can make an Application for Dispute Resolution either for compensation for loss of use, to obtain a rent reduction or to end the tenancy.  If the failure of the landlord to complete the repairs resulted in a breach of a material term of the tenancy, and the tenant gave notice to the landlord of the breach, then the tenant may end the tenancy. (amended July 31, 2017)

 

6. The tenant’s belongings were damaged.  Who is responsible for cleaning, repairs or replacement?

Tenants are usually responsible for their belongings.  If the tenant has tenant’s insurance, they should read their policy closely to see what kind of damage is covered and call their insurer with any questions.

 

7. The tenant wasn’t able to live in the rental unit for several days because of the evacuation order.  The landlord had to make some repairs before they tenant could move back in.  Does the tenant still pay rent for the time they weren’t living in the unit?

Tenants and landlords should have a discussion about what is expected for rental payments.  Any agreement made by landlords and tenants should be in writing. If the tenant and landlord are not able to come to an agreement about the rent, the tenant should pay their rent as set out in their tenancy agreement or effective Notice of Rent Increase. A tenant who is unable to use their rental unit for a period of time may be entitled to compensation for that loss and can make an Application for Dispute Resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch for an order to temporarily reduce their rent.  

Landlords should check with their insurance company to determine if loss of rental income is covered under their insurance policy. (amended July 31, 2017)

Tenants are responsible for the cost of alternate accommodations unless otherwise stated in the tenancy agreement.

 

9. Can a landlord change the locks to a rental unit during an evacuation?  Is this legal?

No, this is not legal.  A landlord must not change the locks or other means that give access to residential property or manufactured home park unless they provide each tenant with new keys or other means that give access to the residential property.

If the landlord has changed the locks and has not provided the tenant with a key, the tenant should try contacting the landlord to request a key by phone and in writing—the tenant should keep a copy of the written request for a key in case it is needed later.  If the landlord does not provide a key as required, the tenant may make an Application for Dispute Resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch requesting an order of possession for the tenant and compensation for damage or loss.  The landlord may be also required to pay for the costs of alternate accommodation from the time the tenant requested the key until the landlord provided a key.

 

10. Rent is usually paid in cash, but I am not able to meet with my landlord/tenant because I have been evacuated to a different community.  What should I do?

Tenants remain responsible for payment of rent during an evacuation.  If the tenant has their landlord’s email address, they may want to see if they can transfer their rent money electronically.  If the landlord issues a 10 Day Notice to End Tenancy for non-payment of rent or utilities, the tenant has five days after receiving the notice to pay the unpaid rent or utilities or make an Application for Dispute Resolution to cancel the Notice to End Tenancy.

If the area is subject to an evacuation order or Canada Post suspension of mail delivery, there is a special order in place that addresses service of documents.  This order may allow the landlord to serve documents by email or sets out when documents served by mail are considered to be received. 

 

11. I can’t get in touch with my landlord/tenant.  What should I do?

Under the Residential Tenancy Act and Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, the landlord must provide the tenant with the address for service and telephone number of the landlord or the landlord’s agent.  The landlord must also post and maintain in a conspicuous place, or give to a tenant in writing, the name and telephone number of a person the tenant is to contact for emergency repairs.  During an evacuation, it is possible that the landlord or tenant may not have access to the other party’s contact information.

If the tenant does not have this address, they should communicate in writing to the address on the tenancy agreement.

If the area is subject to an evacuation order or Canada Post suspension of mail delivery, there is a special order in place that addresses service of documents.  This order may allow landlords and tenants  to serve each other with documents by email, in addition to the allowable methods under section 88 and 89 of the Residential Tenancy Act or section 81 and 82 of the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, and sets out when documents served by mail are considered to be received. 

The Residential Tenancy Branch has issued a temporary order that allows for service of documents by email in limited circumstances.  This same order establishes when documents served by mail are considered to be received in areas subject to an evacuation order or suspension of Canada Post mail delivery service.

See more information in question 25

In rare cases, you may have difficulty serving a document using one of the available options.  To serve documents in a different way you need to apply for a special order. (amended July 31, 2017)

Proof is required that shows:

  • Reasonable effort to serve the documents via one of the available options was unsuccessful
  • The other party is likely to receive the document using a method proposed.

For more information, visit our website at www.gov.bc.ca/landlordtenant.

No.  Security deposits or pet damage deposits held for residential tenancies are to cover items within the tenant’s responsibility, such as cleaning costs, unpaid rent or repairing damage beyond normal wear and tear.

You are not required to consult with your local government.  However, an inspection is recommended if there is a health or safety concern.

 

15. The tenancy agreement was terminated but the tenants left many of their belongings.  What can I do with everything?

Abandoned property valued at $500 or more must be placed in storage for at least 60 days, unless it would be unsafe or unsanitary to store the items.  If the goods are valued at less than $500, landlords can dispose of them as they see fit; however, in the case of a disaster where tenants had to leave on short notice, landlords may wish to show consideration about disposing personal documents (passports, tax information, etc.) and items that may have personal value such as photo albums. 

A landlord must not unreasonably restrict access to a residential property or manufactured home park by the tenant or a person permitted on the property by that tenant.

Although tenants will be anxious to return to their homes, landlords may be hesitant to allow tenants re-entry into their units if there is uncertainty whether the premises are habitable.  A landlord must ensure the state of the residential property or manufactured home park complies with the health, safety and housing standards required by law.  Tenants should also be mindful of any local government or provincial order(s) not to enter the property.

In these circumstances landlords and tenants should keep in contact. The landlord should communicate reasons for any delay in the tenant returning home, and tenants may wish to check with their landlord on the availability of their rental unit prior to returning.

If all efforts to resolve the matter between landlord and tenant fail and a tenant feels the landlord is unreasonably restricting access to the rental unit, the tenant may make an Application for Dispute Resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch.

A landlord must not enter a rental unit or manufactured home site without notice or consent unless the landlord has reasonable grounds to believe there is an emergency or the tenant has abandoned the rental unit or manufactured home site.

Otherwise, landlords require the permission of the tenant, or must provide the tenant with 24 hours written notice of the purpose of entering the unit and the date and time of entry, or have an order of the director authorizing entry.  The tenant is not required to be present when the landlord enters.

Section 88 of the Residential Tenancy Act and section 81 of the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act set out how documents can be given or served.  If your area is subject to an evacuation order or suspension of Canada Post mail delivery service, the Residential Tenancy Branch has issued a temporary order that allows for service of documents by email in some circumstances.  Learn more about the temporary order in question 12.

Tenants who have evidence the landlord may have entered their rental unit improperly can make an Application for Dispute Resolution.

 

18. My tenancy agreement expires on July 30, 2017.  Now what happens?

If the fixed-term tenancy agreement includes a clause that requires the tenant to vacate the rental unit at the end of the fixed term, the tenancy ends unless the landlord and tenant agree to continue the tenancy.  If the fixed-term tenancy agreement does not require the tenant to vacate the rental unit at the end of the fixed term, then the tenancy continues until it is lawfully ended.

Tenants who have a fixed-term tenancy with a vacate clause that expires during the 2017 Wildfires should discuss options with their landlord to remove their personal property once re-entry is allowed or the possibility of continuing the tenancy on a fixed term or periodic basis.  Tenants who do not vacate the property at the end of their fixed-term tenancy and have not made arrangements with the landlord to remain in the property may be deemed overholding tenants by the landlord, and the landlord may make an Application for Dispute Resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch for an order of possession and/or compensation.

Yes, landlords may serve a 10 Day Notice to End Tenancy for non-payment of rent on the tenant any day after the rent is due.  The tenant has five days after receiving the 10 Day Notice to End Tenancy to pay the unpaid rent or make an Application for Dispute Resolution to cancel the 10 Day Notice to End Tenancy.

If the tenant files an Application for Dispute Resolution to cancel the Notice to End Tenancy, a teleconference hearing will be scheduled.  Both parties can submit and exchange evidence to support their arguments and provide testimony in the hearing.

At any time, a landlord and tenant can mutually agree to end the tenancy by a certain date and save the expense of taking the matter to the Residential Tenancy Branch.  

The Residential Tenancy Act and Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act provide other reasons for ending a tenancy and corresponding timeframes for notice.  

Yes.  Landlords can increase rent annually by a percentage equal to the inflation rate plus 2 per cent.  The 2017 maximum allowable rent increase limit is 3.7 per cent.

 

21. The landlord removed my refrigerator/freezer.  Can they do this?

Although the Residential Tenancy Act does not specifically address refrigerators or freezers, tenancy agreements must include which services and facilities are included in the rent and should indicate if a refrigerator or freezer is provided.

Following an extended power outage, growth of mold and bacteria in the refrigerator or freezer may cause a safety hazard.  If a landlord removes a refrigerator or freezer and does not replace it as soon as is reasonably possible or does not provide proper notice and a corresponding rent reduction, the tenant may make an Application for Dispute Resolution seeking compensation for damages or loss or a rent reduction.

Landlords and tenants who have concerns related to a termination of tenancy, unpaid rent/utilities, security deposit, damages, repairs or other common disagreements may make an Application for Dispute Resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch.  Disputes are heard by an arbitrator who is authorized to make final and binding decisions on claims of up to $35,000 involving tenancy disputes.  

You may make an Application for Dispute Resolution by completing the online application and paying the $100 filing fee (or submitting an Application to Waive Filing Fee if you are a tenant with a very low income) or by submitting a paper Application for Dispute Resolution to any Service BC Office or to the Residential Tenancy Branch office at 400 - 5021 Kingsway in Burnaby along with the $100 filing fee (or an Application to Waive Filing Fee if you are a tenant with a very low income).

 

24. I have a hearing coming up in the next few days and I am not in a position to be able to attend or present my case.  What can I do?

Contact the other party and see if they will consent to adjourning the hearing to another date.  If possible, obtain their consent in writing, such as an email.  If it is not possible to contact the other party, or if they are not willing to consent to adjourn the hearing, phone into the hearing.  If you don’t have the telephone number and access code for your hearing, you may contact the Residential Tenancy Branch to obtain that information.  You may phone into the hearing and request an adjournment from the arbitrator if you are not able to participate fully because of the evacuation (for example, you don’t have access to the evidence you need or you are in immediate danger)

If you are unable to phone into your hearing and miss it, because of the evacuation, you may complete an Application for Review Consideration on the grounds that you were unable to participate for reasons beyond your control.  You must file your Application for Review Consideration within the statutory time limits; however, those time limits are based on when you receive the decision or order.

 

25. I couldn’t meet a time limit required under the Act because of the fire.  What can I do?

The Legislation contains provisions for the time frames within which a person must act upon having received documents. The Residential Tenancy Branch cannot extend the time limit to apply for dispute resolution to dispute a Notice to End Tenancy beyond the effective date of the notice and may not extend the time limit for a tenant to pay overdue rent without the agreement of the landlord or unless the tenant has deducted the unpaid amount because the tenant believed that the deduction was allowed for emergency repairs or under an order of the director.

The date a person receives documents is what is used to calculate time. If service or the time frame for having responded is in dispute, at the dispute resolution hearing, an arbitrator may consider evidence from both the party receiving the document and the party serving the document to determine the date of service and the calculation of time a respondent had for responding.  Section 71 (2)(b) of the Residential Tenancy Act and section 64 (2)(b) of the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act give an arbitrator the authority to order that a document has been sufficiently served for the purposes of the Act on a date the arbitrator specifies, upon consideration of procedural fairness and prejudice to the affected party.  For more information on rebuttable presumption, please refer to Policy Guideline 12: Service Provisions. (amended July 31, 2017)

For other time limits set in the Residential Tenancy Act or Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, an arbitrator may extend a time limit in exceptional circumstances.  The Director of the Residential Tenancy Branch has issued a Practice Directive to arbitrators that may reduce the amount of proof required to obtain an extension of time for those affected by the fires.

For more information, visit www.gov.bc.ca/landlordtenant/online.

 

The content on this website is periodically reviewed and updated by the Province of British Columbia as per the date noted on each page: August 2, 2017.

Contact the Residential Tenancy Branch