5 ways to protect yourself as a renter in Vancouver

Sep 15 2018, 3:28 am

Renting in Vancouver is tough business. Vacancy rates are near zero, rental prices are skyrocketing, and dozens of hopeful renters are often jostling for the same space.

All of this can make finding a place to rent in the city super stressful — and it can lower your standards when it comes to tenant rights. After all, who wants to be the demanding renter that makes a fuss when it’s this difficult to find a place to begin with?

Some landlords are taking advantage of this situation by hiking up rent and leaving repairs to languish. But you shouldn’t have to be at their mercy. Here are some tips to protect yourself from a bad rental situation.

Interview your landlord

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You’re usually trying to make the best impression when hunting for a new place, and this might lead you to ignore red flags and shy away from asking your prospective landlord some key questions. But it’s critical to get answers before you sign a lease.

What happens if your toilet overflows in the middle of the night? When was the last time they made repairs to the building or the unit? Treat your first visit to a rental property like a job interview. They want to know more about you, and you should get to know them a bit, too. If they seem off-putting or hesitant to answer questions — or don’t even show up — take that as a warning sign and move on.

Know your tenancy rights

So your landlord wants to hike up your rent? Not so fast. They’re bound to the Residential Tenancy Act, which stipulates the maximum allowable increase and how much advance notice they have to give you (at least three months).

The BC government has a useful online tool to quickly find answers to other common tenancy issues, such as subletting your place or getting your landlord to pay you back for repairs. If you can’t sort out the issue with your landlord directly, apply for a dispute resolution — similar to a court proceeding — with the Residential Tenancy Branch.

Take pictures

When you first move in, carefully go through the entire space and snap photos of any dents, scratches, and damages. If your phone or camera has a time-stamp feature, turn that on, too.

Your landlord should be inspecting the space with you, but if they’re not around, you should still document it yourself. A landlord could try to blame you for pre-existing damages (even though they have no legal standing to do so if they weren’t present for an inspection) when you move out and your security deposit could be on the line.

Get renters insurance

Imagine losing all your personal belongings and having to replace everything, including clothes, furniture, electronics, and even kitchen items. If the very thought of this stresses you out, make sure to get renters insurance. Your landlord’s policy covers their property but provides no coverage for your belongings.

That’s why renters insurance is the best protection for your personal belongings against break-ins, fire, water damage, or if you’re found liable for personal injury to another person at your place. You can even get covered for earthquake damage with BCAA Renters Insurance.

Despite this, less than half the renters in Canada are insured, according to Statistics Canada. BCAA coverage starts at only $25 per month (with up to 20% off if you’re a member), and you get 24/7 access to an emergency claims team.

Document everything in writing

Whenever you and your landlord agree to something, make sure to get it in writing. That includes modifications to your apartment, changes to the tenancy agreement, and breaches of contract. Keeping a solid paper trail can protect you when taking your dispute to the Residential Tenancy Branch.

Opt for official letters over text messages and always keep a copy for yourself. If you’re unsure of how to write a notice to your landlord, BC’s solution explorer can auto-generate letter templates for you. Just populate it with the relevant fields, including dates and names, and you’ll have written notices that cover all your bases.

Vancouver isn’t an easy city to rent in. When the time comes to find a place, you’re your own best defense against rental scams and sketchy landlords — but if you know your rights, protect yourself and your possessions, and keep detailed records, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a smart renter in one of the most challenging markets in Canada.

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