Court confirms verbal tenancy agreements are enforceable under the Residential Tenancy Act

Last July, the BC Supreme Court released a controversial decision (Darbyshire v. Residential Tenancy Branch) that appeared to find verbal tenancy agreements unenforceable under the Residential Tenancy Act.  For many reasons, the decision in Darbyshire caused serious concern among tenants and advocates of tenants’ rights across the province.
     

One of the predominant purposes of the Residential Tenancy Act is to empower residential tenants against the perceived superior strength of landlords.  The requirement that tenancy agreements be in writing is one way to protect the interests of tenants. 

On the other hand, if verbal tenancy agreements were not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act at all, landlords could exploit their superior strength and leave tenants with no recourse under the Act.  Landlords could evict tenants without cause or notice, they could deny tenants the right to quiet enjoyment, or they could refuse to maintain the property or conduct repairs, and tenants would not be able to rely on the protections, processes and remedies established by the Residential Tenancy Act.  This would have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable tenants who are more likely to be in informal tenancy arrangements and less likely to be able to insist on a written agreement. 

It is CLAS’s view that tenants should not be denied the protections of the Residential Tenancy Act where their landlords have not met their obligation to provide a written tenancy agreement.  Fortunately, CLAS had the opportunity to address this problematic precedent in a judicial review that engaged this very issue. 

In Johnson v. Patry, which was heard in January 2014, CLAS argued that the Court should not follow Darbyshire and should make a clear finding that verbal tenancy agreements are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. 

Fortunately, the Court decided this issue in our client’s favour and resolved any uncertainty that had resulted from Darbyshire.  On March 28, 2014, the Court issued its decision in Johnson v. Patry and confirmed that verbal tenancy agreements are enforceable under the Residential Tenancy Act.  As a result of this decision, vulnerable tenants in informal tenancy arrangements will continue to be afforded the protections established by the Act.