What it is
The Residential Tenancy Branch is where tenants and landlords in B.C. are supposed to resolve disputes that arise. The process can be complicated, time consuming and disempowering for tenants. However, for certain issues, such as disputing an eviction, it's often necessary to use it.
RTB Arbitrators, who are public employees, decide on disputes using the Residential Tenancy Act as well as policy guidelines. Examples of dispute issues include:
- A tenant's right to a quiet environment, which applies to any noise abuse with a cap of damages less than or equal to $35,000
- Deposits not being returned in a timely manner (15 days from move out date), tenant has a year to forward an address if a deposit is involved
- Having a landlord make repairs to the rental unit or property
- Dispute a Notice to End Tenancy (evictions)
- Applying for compensation from a landlord for money owed or other tenancy related issues,
- Apply for an Order of Possession because a tenant hasn’t moved out
- Claim money from a tenant for unpaid rent or damages
How the Dispute Resolution process works
The dispute resolution can feel similar to court, but different in some important ways:
- The standard application fee for dispute resolution is $100. Low-income tenants may apply to have the fee waived.
- Hearings are almost always held over the phone
- The person who runs a dispute resolution hearing, an “arbitrator”, acts similarly to a judge. They listen to both parties, consider the evidence, apply the law, and make a decision
- There is no requirement to have a lawyer (however oftentimes both tenants and landlords do seek help from lawyers in order to improve their chances of a favourable outcome.
- After the hearing both the tenant and landlord must follow the arbitrator’s orders, but getting a court order may still be a required extra step in some circumstances.
Applications for dispute resolution must be made within two years of ending a tenancy. If one of the parties files a claim during that period, the other party can make a separate claim— even if the two year deadline has passed. However, the separate claim must be made before the first one is heard. Decisions are given within 30 days of the hearing date. All decisions are final and binding.
Steps to file a dispute
Online: Use the Fill out Documents either online using your BCEID to generate a dispute access code which you can use to input and edit data at will.
Paper: Print out an application form and fill in the blanks. The application, along with evidence and payment can be submitted to the RTB office in Burnaby, using the dropbox located there.
Notice of Dispute Resolution packets can be picked up in person at the Burnaby RTB office and kiosks are available for self service 9am-4pm (closed weekends and holidays). Also closed from 9am-12am on the last Wednesday of each month for updates including phone and email. Open 11am – 4pm.
After filling out the form and before visiting and calling, have your questions ready. If you have an open dispute have your Dispute Action Code ready when you or your landlord apply. Call (604) 660-1020, lower mainland; email [email protected].
When preparing for your RTB dispute consider this rule: 90% evidence, 10% story. You'll need to back up what you are saying with evidence as much as possible.
Evidence is submitted with the application form. If you discover new evidence after submitting your initial dispute package, you can still add that evidence to to your application— as long as it is served as soon as possible and received by the RTB and the respondent not less than 14 days before the hearing.
The original application and all supporting documents must be either handed to the respondent (your landlord or their designate), attached and witnessed being attached to the respondent’s door or sent to the respondent via registered mail. If there is more than one respondent the same steps must be taken for each one.
You can also submit evidence online on the RTB website. In the upload window select files on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
- Give files a logical name
- You must describe the file in the field provided
- If you are uploading an audio or video file provide a time code for the key point in the description field
- make sure they aren’t in one of the disallowed formats – msg, eml, html, and htm. Convert those files to an acceptable format: text, PDF, Word documents or a photo file
Once you complete the upload the Dispute Access Site will get a receipt showing what you uploaded. Keep the receipt!
To claim costs related to the arbitration fill out the cost spreadsheet. Keep receipts and copies of all expenses accrued.
Getting a Decision Overturned
An arbitrator may make minor corrections or clarify a decision; however, no one can change the outcome of an original decision — not even an arbitrator. Decisions can only be overturned:
- If a review hearing is granted and a new arbitrator reaches a different conclusion, or
- By a judicial review conducted by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
As an all-volunteer organization, the Vancouver Tenants Union generally does not offer assistance with RTB cases or legal advocacy services.
For more info you can also call RTB Information officers, who can answer questions and help you fill out forms. They are not allowed to provide legal advice.
Several organizations can provide legal advocacy and can sometimes help you with filing your dispute. Find them on this page.