When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant Legally
Updated: Feb 10
Landlords may sometimes want to end a lease agreement for various reasons: for example, they need to use the property themselves, they want to carry out renovation, or sometimes they may not just like a tenant. On the other hand, lots of tenants worry about getting kicked out one day, which can cause much hardship to themselves. However, very often, both parties do not know much about what the law actually says about termination, or eviction. So, when can a landlord evict a tenant without breaching the law?
Applicability of RTA
The first thing to be figured out is whether the common law or the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) governs a lease. For individual landlords, this question is a relatively easy one: it often depends on whether a tenant shares bathroom or kitchen facilities with them. If the answer is yes, then it is just a contract issue. Generally, either party can unilaterally terminate the contract as long as they are ready to compensate the other party for their loss, though the calculation of compensation can be a matter for further disputes.
However, the more common situation may be that the tenant does not share those facilities with the landlord, especially for landlords who do not live in the same property. In that case, RTA will likely apply (there are other exceptions), and stricter restrictions on evictions will be in place. Then, a landlord can only issue eviction notices allowed under RTA using the specific forms provided by RTB. Non-compliance with RTA may result in an eviction notice being set aside at RTB.
What if the Landlord Does not Like a Tenant?
A common reason for landlords to consider evicting a tenant (even if they do not say it) is that they do not like the tenant. The reason may be that the landlord is picky, or the tenant themselves are problematic, such as being untidy or noisy. But it is worth noticing that under RTA, circumstances in which eviction is allowed have been limited to a narrow range. While the law allows a landlord to terminate for cause, (when a tenant makes certain serious mistakes justify the termination, including repeated late payment of rent, an unreasonable number of occupants, unauthorized sublease, etc.), the requirements are hard to satisfy, and the mere fact that a tenant is a bad guy will probably be insufficient.
Landlord’s Own Use of the Property
With eviction for cause being so hard, sometimes a landlord, having basic knowledge or experience about RTA, will claim that they need the property for their own use, and send a family member to live there for a while after the termination. But that will be a misconception about the law.
According to the RTA, while landlord’s own use of the property can be a reason for legal termination, that intention to occupy the property must be in good faith. According to the caselaw in British Columbia, good faith requires “an honest intention with no dishonest motive”. Although it can be difficult to define “good faith” in detail, one bottom line is that a landlord cannot use their own use as a pretext to hide a real reason in their mind that will not allow them to terminate a lease. Therefore, a landlord will probably break the law if they just want to get rid of a tenant that they do not like, and later have a family member live in the house to avoid the serious consequence (which will be 12 times of the monthly rent).
If such a matter goes to RTB, while the tenant has to prove the objective facts, the burden will then be on the landlord to show that they really wanted to use the property in good faith, and no bad faith at all. In practice, this is often quite difficult, because proving that something does not exist (bad faith in this case) can be very challenging. Thus, it will be incorrect if a landlord thinks they need not worry since a tenant cannot really know what is in their mind. Also, if a landlord claims their own use of the property with bad faith, but later finds out they could have terminated for cause or other legal reasons, it cannot help them get away from the duty of compensation.
While RTA and RTB were created partly to make it easier for people to deal with common legal matters related to residential tenancy, in reality the law can still be complex and confusing for many. Sometimes people do not know the law, and sometimes they misunderstand it. No matter whether you are a landlord or a tenant, if you are facing an eviction matter, having a lawyer assist you will potentially reduce risks and get the best outcome possible.
Jonthan Li is an articled student at Henderson & Lee who has assisted in civil disputes.