Anybody home? No one in Rich Coleman’s Ministry Responsible for Housing was available Wednesday to talk about the fee hikes.
Huge fee increases for both landlords and tenants seeking a dispute resolution through B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) have been quietly ushered in this month.
No one in Rich Coleman’s Ministry Responsible for Housing was available Wednesday to talk about the fee hikes, and a ministry media liaison officer said the increase will help in hiring new arbitrators and reduce wait times.
A cabinet order was approved on Dec. 17, and the fee hikes that double many of the services came into effect Jan. 1.
NDP housing critic David Eby said the hefty fee hikes come as the branch deals with massive underfunding and a high volume of landlord-tenant conflicts that often take months to reach an arbitrator.
“Now people are paying more money for a broken system,” Eby said of the fee hikes and the widespread criticism that the RTB is very slow in dealing with complaints.
“You have to wait weeks or even months, even though there are problems like no heat or hot water. Landlords and tenants will tell you the system is not working.”
With the new fees, anyone filing an application with the RTB will pay $100, up from $50.
An appeal review that was $25 now costs $50 to file the paperwork.
Under the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Regulation, fee hikes for a landlord wanting to bump the rent up beyond the provincial inflation guidelines go from $200 plus $5 for each unit to $300 plus $10 per unit.
Eby noted that utilities and many other essentials are all going up this year and the fee hikes at the RTB “are just one more hidden cost.”
Eby fears the higher costs may keep tenants from filing a grievance with the RTB, allowing landlords to take advantage of tenants “who are terrified of losing their rental homes.”
“They are doubling the fees to access justice,” he said.
If the tenant is successful in the dispute, then the landlord must pay the filing fee; if the landlord wins, the tenant must cover the cost of the application fee.
In 2014-15 the RTB had 22,000 applications for dispute resolution, a five-per-cent increase over previous years.
Applicants do not need a lawyer, but some who attempt to file a dispute complain that the reams of paperwork often required for an application to move forward are too complex. Another criticism is that landlords who lose often fail to comply with the decision, forcing tenants to go to small claims court to get the money they are owed.
Tom Durning, a senior staffer with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said the RTB is badly broken.
“We have a residential tenancy branch that is severely underfunded and understaffed. They need more staff and they should hire more arbitrators to prosecute the bad landlords. Just increase the service, please.”