How to Win at Renting in Vancouver

Am I allowed to sublet? Can my landlord raise my rent? We dive into the Residential Tenancy Act so you don’t have to.

In Vancouver, where half of our residents rent, we all have a friend who’s had a horrible landlord or awful tenants living in their home. Despite the high percentage of renters in the city, very few of us have taken the opportunity to read through the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). In an attempt to rectify the situation we dug through the RTA and chatted with some professionals to learn the ins-and-outs of renting in Vancouver.First off, what loopholes should renters look out for?“Watch out for fixed-term tenancies with vacate clauses,” says Andrew Sakamoto, Executive Director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC). These can be used to avoid the rent controls in the RTA, allowing for an “out with the old and in with the new” approach that increases tenant turnover so the landlord can frequently raise the rent. Although fixed-term tenancies may offer a sense of security, TRAC recommends finding an agreement that shifts from a fixed-term to a month-to-month contract if you’re looking for something more long term.Am I allowed to sublet my place? “A sublet is when one tenant moves off the premises temporarily and in the meantime rents their space to a sub-tenant,” explains Sakamoto, addressing a common misconception about the sub-letting process, which he encounters frequently at TRAC.Your lease is your best friend in this situation – what did you and your landlord agree upon when you first discussed your tenancy? If you already know you don’t have their permission and you still really want to go on that road trip across Canada, there still may be hope – all you need is written consent from your landlord (an email, a handwritten note with initials). Here’s the catch: if you go ahead without your landlord’s permission they are legally allowed to issue a Notice to End Tenancy. According to Sakamoto, if you have more than six months left on you fixed-term lease then your landlord cannot unreasonably deny you the ability to sublet your place. If you have a month-to-month lease, then you have no such luxury. Just make sure your landlord doesn’t ask for compensation to screen or accept potential sub-tenants – that’s illegal.Check out section 34 of the RTA for more information on subletting.I don’t own my place, but I’ve lived here a long time and the lease is in my name. Can I charge my roommate(s) a bigger share of the rent without telling them? This practice is super common, but it walks the ethical grey line. Under this type of lease agreement you would be referred to has the head tenant (as you are the only one with your name on the lease) and your roommate(s) are considered occupants. As head tenant you are solely liable for any damage caused to the property, in addition to ensuring the rent is paid in full. While this may mean you can charge your roommate a bigger share of the rent without telling them, there’s certain give-and-take necessary to making this type of arrangement work.”There are no rules about how much you charge an occupant. But if I were a landlord I would build into my tenancy agreement a requirement that my sole tenant notify me when they will be moving occupants into different rooms of my property. Ideally, I’d be aware of how much rent is being charged to each occupant,” says Sakamoto on how landlords can control this type of situation.Check out TRAC’s section on different types of roommates for more information.My roommate suddenly decided she wanted to move to France and is now ending our tenancy agreement early. Can she do this?Again, the type of lease you have is key here. If you’ve signed a co-tenancy agreement (both of your names are on the same lease), as long as your roommate gives proper notice she can move to wherever she chooses and the tenancy ends for everyone.  If you have signed separate leases then your tenancy will remain unchanged if she leaves; however, if she gives improper notice, then nothing will change.See Division 5 of the RTA for more information about ending a tenancy agreement.What are my rights as a landlord? How do I maintain a successful relationship with my tenants?Al Kemp, President of Help 4 Landlords and former CEO of the Rental Owners and Managers Society of BC, calls it the tenants triangle: landlords have the right to receiving rent in full and on time, to have their property taken care of and tenants who avoid disturbing other residents or the landlord themselves. “Be visible to your tenants, communicate openly and respond to legitimate problems,” suggests Kemp.My place is falling apart and my landlord won’t fix it. What should I do?“A lot of BC’s housing is old and deteriorating, and this is the second most common issue we deal with at TRAC. You have the right to live in a place that is well maintained,” says Sakamoto. To ensure the protection of the tenant’s rights and of the landlord’s property, there are specific steps in place to handle these types of issues. When asking for repairs do so in writing (TRAC has a template letter you can use) and if you’ve done so more than twice with no action from your landlord you can apply for a dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch. The Branch can issue a repair order and can compensate you for the time you’ve gone without it being fixed.My landlord says he can raise my rent by $200 because I have a fixed-term lease. What is that and is it true?“This is the number one issue that TRAC deals with and the problem isn’t with fixed-term leases but with vacate clauses. Only when a vacate clause is added to the end of the lease does it become problematic as the landlord basically has all the power and can enforce the vacate clause to make you move out, or sign a new lease at whatever rate they want,” says Sakamoto. Unfortunately, if your lease has a vacate clause then it is up to the landlord what the new terms (and rent) should be. If your lease doesn’t have a vacate clause then the Residential Tenancy Act’s rent controls would apply and you could apply for dispute resolution, or just move out.

Pick up the April Issue of VanMag to spy more from our How We Live Now package, where we dive into the who, the where and the how of Vancouver’s renting scene.