BC Tenants and Landlords: Negotiations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by: Alfonso Chen

Introduction

Tenants of residential tenancies generally want a place to stay that is suitable and remains suitable as a residence. Landlords of residential tenancies generally want tenants to pay rent on time and properly maintain their rental units. Often, when tenants and landlords have disputes about whether their rights under the Residential Tenancy Act or associated case law or regulations have been infringed upon, they can rely on the Residential Tenancy Branch (the “Branch”) to assist them in resolving their disputes. Some landlords may seek an order of possession from the Branch. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a temporary halt on many evictions in BC. The provincial government has a $500 supplement available for certain tenants in need of that to pay part of their rent. However, this might not be enough for the full amount of rent. Disputes will undoubtedly arise through the next few months between tenants and landlords over their rights and responsibilities. This article seeks to assist landlords and tenants in resolving their dispute privately during this time of uncertainty.

To note, there are certain tenancies that do not fall under the Residential Tenancy Act which are not discussed in this article. There are also many methods to resolve residential tenancy disputes– this article only raises a few issues and is not exhaustive. Some disputes may also be unsuitable for private negotiations. Due to these reasons, you must seek advice from a lawyer regarding your particular case before relying on any of the contents of this article.

Initiating the Negotiation Process

It is crucial that you act in good faith and with a sense of appreciation of the troubles COVID-19 may cause on the other party.

As a landlord, you must recognize that many tenants may simply be unable to pay rent and may be unable to fix parts of the premises that they damaged due to circumstances beyond their control. It may be futile to send a strongly-worded letter to the tenant demanding the tenant to pay the rent in full and on time or demanding the tenant to have something fixed right away.

As a tenant, you must recognize that landlords may rely on rent to buy groceries and possibly for their entire disposable income and may be unable to fix parts of the property, such as appliances, promptly. If you have the means to pay rent in full and on time, then you should do so – after all, there is an agreement between you and your landlord.

You may wish to begin negotiating by advising the other party of your awareness of how COVID-19 has impacted the other party. You can express your concern without blaming the other party as well as set out proposals for how to resolve the issue, including reasonable timelines. Recall that people are particularly stressed at this time and adjusting to working from home. They may be unable or unprepared to reply promptly. Unless your matter is urgent, a text message or email can work to express your understanding of their circumstances and of the potential delay in receiving responses. After a day or two, you can give the other party a call to follow up. In all, you should begin with a positive attitude and with a desire and commitment to resolve matters privately and amicably.

Negotiating

Upon both parties communicating with one another to begin negotiating, you can assess whether it is possible for you to resolve the matters among yourselves or if you require a third party to help facilitate the negotiations. If there is a mutual friend or acquaintance who can objectively assess the situation and provide a fair and enforceable proposal to resolve the dispute, then you can ask that mutual friend to step in and assist during the negotiations. You may also wish to list what aspects of the tenancy are most important to you and ask the other party to do the same. With the lists, you can try to find ways to mutually accommodate the other’s interests. It is probable that you would have to both give and take during negotiations. As such, you may wish to also proactively list what you can do to benefit the other party. Upon reaching an agreement to resolve the dispute, the landlord and the tenant should write down and sign a written agreement, of course while following best practices on minimizing the spread of COVID-19. To note, certain agreements are unenforceable. You should each have a lawyer independently review your proposal prior to reaching the settlement and have the lawyer assess the enforceability of your agreement.

Conclusion

Residential tenancy disputes frequently arise and are sometimes difficult to resolve. However, you may increase your chances of successfully settling matters privately by: a) approaching the negotiation with a positive and understanding attitude, b) being prepared for the negotiations, c) reasonably accommodating the other party’s interests while pursuing protection of your own, d) taking steps to ensure that the agreement is enforceable and d) creating a written record of the agreement.

Henderson & Lee has many lawyers who handle residential tenancy matters and has recently implemented a fully remote initial consultation system to allow us to continue supporting those facing legal challenges in BC so that new clients do not need to leave home just to visit our offices. If you require assistance with your residential tenancy dispute or any other legal dispute, please feel free to call (604) 558-2258 to schedule an initial consultation. We warmly welcome the opportunity to serve you. In any event, we wish you the best in resolving disputes with your landlord or tenant.

Alfonso Chen is a litigation associate of Henderson & Lee. His practice mainly involves civil litigation and criminal defence matters.