We have all heard someone with a rental-gone-bad story, or we may have experienced it for ourselves. In the past when I signed a certain lease, I felt a shiver crawl through my body—it felt as if I was signing my life away to a stranger —and in a sense, I was. Just another broke university student living off loans, I was not aware of how much a tenancy gone wrong could cost me—emotionally and financially.
The truth is that I’ve heard more horror stories than happy endings in regards to landlord/tenant relations: landlords who want too much control over the property, unnecessary eviction notices, withholding a damage deposit without cause, eavesdropping, and so on the stories go. It is also true that I have experienced more a sense of purgatory than Zen in the mystical realm of confused tenants. I too realize that there are some rotten tenants out there and that landlords face many difficulties. It is equally important for landlords to know their rights in order to protect themselves and their property. But this not written for landlords, this is written for tenants by a tenant.
In my most recent tenancy, I was paying upwards of $700 dollars a month for a house the size of the average living room. Despite renting through a property management company, my landlords (who were unfortunately my next-door neighbors), displayed a bit of a control problem over the property. Entering my house twice without giving me proper notice to “change a light bulb” or “let the paint dry on the outside door,” the landlords felt that they had every right to enter when I was not home. Guess again: it is illegal. Good thing I am well versed in my rights as a tenant.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard some wonderful landlord/tenant stories of deep connections and lasting friendships, but I have been a renter long enough to know that these cases are rare. So rare in fact that those of us who have rented most likely have experienced that bitter taste from a tenancy turned sour —the same taste that sits on my tongue now, just days after ending one of the worst rental situations of my life thus far. So whether your landlord has become your best friend or another reason to rip your hair out, there are some things we should all know before signing that lease. Take it from a seasoned renter (try 11 houses in 5 years). Here is my advice on how to stay happy and smart during your tenancy.
Cover your ass from day one. Document everything you think might be important before, after, and during your tenancy—if anything goes wrong, you’ll be glad you did.
Take pictures of any damage to the rental that is present when you move in. When doing the initial walk-through inspection with your new landlord or property manager, do not be shy to point out even the smallest details of damage—be thorough. Do not spend an entire day puttying and painting every single thumb-tac mark you made putting up your favorite posters like I did some years ago. Know what types of damage are considered “natural wear and tear.” Ask questions about what you may and may not do to the rental and make sure it gets written down somewhere on the agreement. For example, can I put picture hangers in the walls? May I install a bookshelf with screws?
Take a video of the rental before you move in. Walk around the entire house and state aloud any damage that you see. Keep copies of any important documents (ie: rental payment receipts, inspection reports, lease agreements). You might think these precautions are a bit over the top and hopefully you will never have to use the documents that you have gathered, but this way you can rest assured that you’ve covered all the bases.
Know your rights as a tenant. There are endless webpages dedicated to educating you on your rights as a tenant. Use your online resources. Don’t have access to a computer? Go into the BC Access Center nearest you and speak with someone there. Learn what you are and are not allowed to do within a rental house, what rent increases are legal, and what deposits you are required to pay. Students are often stereotyped as young and naïve—help break that stereotype by becoming educated in your rights. Do not be afraid to voice any concerns to your landlord. Keep any communication between you in written form. Keeping a copy for your records will ensure there will be no he said/she said. Become educated on your privacy rights—if you feel your landlord is violating your privacy (frequently on your property, wanting to come into the rental on a regular basis) then this is in violation of the Right to Quiet Enjoyment guideline. Any violation of this guideline is grounds to apply for dispute resolution. Visit the Residential Tenancy Branch website <www.rto.gov.bc.ca> and enjoy some light reading on what your rights and responsibilities are as a tenant, as well as your landlords.
Contact the Residential Tenancy Branch of British Columbia. If you are considering applying for dispute resolution, this is the first step. There is a toll free phone number to call to speak with an officer at the Residential Tenancy Branch office. They will listen to your concerns and help you understand your rights. If you do decide to go through with the application, the process itself is straightforward—you can pick up the forms at any local Service BC Access Center and fill them out in half an hour or less. Be sure to have the respondent’s name, address, and telephone number or you will not be able to apply. If you do not know this information off-hand, lucky for you it is not as difficult as it used to be to find someone’s personal information. Try Google. Once you have applied for the dispute resolution and paid the $50 filing fee, sit back and relax… It will be a few months before the scheduled hearing. Use this time to write down all of your points and gather your evidence.
And if you ever become a landlord yourself, do us all a favor and raise your head to the sky and promise that you’ll be a damn good one.