A new report by a legal advocacy organization identifies significant and persistent unfairness at the Residential Tenancy Branch, the body charged with administering BC’s tenancy laws. The report, entitled “On Shaky Ground: Fairness at the Residential Tenancy Branch,” sets out the ways in which this unfairness is jeopardizing the protections set out in BC’s tenancy laws.
“BC’s tenancy legislation sets out the rights and obligations of residential landlords and tenants,” says Jess Hadley of the Community Legal Assistance Society. “It provides a degree of security for tenants, imposes obligations to repair and maintain rental housing on landlords, and sets limits around when and how a tenancy can be terminated. A fair and consistent process for enforcing rights and obligations is essential for both landlords and tenants; after all, rights that cannot be enforced quickly become meaningless.”
The report, written by lawyers at the Community Legal Assistance Society who specialize in tenancy law, addresses systemic problems with decision-making and enforcement at the Branch that regularly leave participants feeling like their case has not been taken seriously or carefully decided. Many of the problems set out in the report, such as impatient, rushed decision-makers and inconsistent decisions, were cited as concerns by both landlord and tenants stakeholders.
“Most of the problems in the report relate to very basic procedural fairness that everyone would expect in a legal proceeding determining their rights, like getting a chance to give your side of the story,” says Kendra Milne of the Community Legal Assistance Society. “These are not overly technical concerns, and they impact every stage of the Branch’s arbitration process. Whether you are a landlord concerned about your rental unit or a tenant at risk of homelessness, important issues are at stake that can impact safety and well-being. There should be a fair and reliable system to decide those issues.”
The report makes ten specific recommendations for how the Branch can improve fairness. However, the overall recommendation is that the Province better support the Residential Tenancy Branch to focus on fairness and consistency.
“Many of these issues stem from the fact that the Branch is drastically underfunded when compared with other similar administrative decision-makers in the province,” says Jess Hadley. “As a result, in recent years the Branch has prioritized efficiency and cost saving at the expense of fairness. In the current access to justice crisis, speedy dispute resolution is desirable, but efficiency can’t come at the cost of basic fairness. The provincial government needs to re-commit to ensuring the tenancy system works fairly.”
The report can be downloaded here.
Jess Hadley, staff lawyer, Community Legal Assistance Society
Kendra Milne, staff lawyer, Community Legal Assistance Society