B.C. landlords must present repayment plans to tenants in arrears, but what if renters disagree with the terms?

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Now that the B.C. NDP government has decided that all tenants must cover missed rent payments during the pandemic, some apartment dwellers will face a difficult choice.

      Should they sign a repayment plan presented by their building manager?

      That's the subject of an intriguing article by writer Richard Trapunski on the NOW Toronto website.

      The situation isn't identical between B.C. and Ontario.

      In B.C., Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson has described her government's approach as an "extension of our Temporary Rent Supplement program".

      That's because tenants can gradually repay back rent by July 1, 2021, under a framework announced last week.

      On September 1, all tenants must pay their rent in full and a ban on evictions will be lifted.

      For the 15 percent of B.C. tenants who didn't pay their entire rent from March 18 through August, their first repayment is due on October 1.

      No late fees are permitted. And rent increases can't take effect until December 1.

      "A landlord whose tenant has unpaid rent or utilities during the emergency period would be required to enter into a repayment plan for those arrears," the B.C. government declares on its website.

      But the government website doesn't offer specific advice to tenants who don't like the repayment plan presented by landlords.

      It suggests going to dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch or seeking mediation through the Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service. Alternatively, they can seek provincial or federal financial help.

      In Ontario, the Doug Ford government has introduced Bill 184. It's euphemistically called the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Communities Housing Act, and it will amend Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act.

      As Trapunski explains in Now, Bill 184 will enable landlords to "enforce payment plans that were signed out of court" at the provincial housing tribunal.

      According to Toronto lawyer Carmen Sa'd, an Ontario landlord could theoretically obtain an eviction order in an ex parte hearing—where the tenant is absent.

      Trapunski emphasizes that the Ontario law only grants a tenant 10 days to file a motion to have an ex parte order put on hold.

      During the 2017 election campaign, NDP Leader John Horgan presented himself as a candidate that tenants could trust to look after their interests.

      Repayment plans put onus on tenants

      The Residential Tenancy Act in B.C. states that a tenancy agreement may not be amended to change or remove a "standard term". (Standard terms are prescribed in regulations pursuant to the legislation.)

      However, a standard term can be modified "only if both the landlord and the tenant agree to the amendment".

      Presumably, this applies to rent repayment plans.

      So could a B.C. landlord obtain an ex parte eviction order against tenants who fail to comply with the terms of these agreements?

      Even though B.C. has dictated that tenants in arrears must repay their landlords in full by July 2021, the province has suggested there may be some wriggle room.

      "Recognizing that many renters and landlords worked together to make arrangements during this crisis, the framework will also leave some flexibility for landlords to work with renters to further adjust the payment amounts," the B.C. government states in a news release.

      "For example, allowing lower payments in the beginning of the agreement and gradually increasing the payment amounts over time or extending the duration of the repayment process past July 2021."

      But that, of course, depends on the consent of the landlord.

      B.C. government

      Housing market is in transition

      Of course, there are other options for tenants who don't want to make their landlord 100 percent financially whole when almost everyone else lost money during the pandemic.

      With the U.S.-Canada border sealed to nonessential travel, there appears to be a lot of rental units coming onto the market.

      That's because homeowners with Airbnb units must find long-term tenants to cover their mortgages.

      In addition, far fewer international students will likely come to Vancouver to attend language schools. That could free up apartment units.

      Plus, there's a chance that fewer university students will move to this region in September if they're able to continue their virtual education from communities outside of the Lower Mainland. That too could create more vacancies in Metro Vancouver.

      All of this may create incentives for debt-soaked tenants to pack up and move on to new digs, sticking landlords with unpaid rent.

      The realities of the housing market may elicit more flexibility from landlords.

      In Toronto, one lawyer is advising tenants to obtain written copies of any rent-repayment agreements with landlords, according to NOW magazine.

      “Tenants should try to negotiate a grace period within the repayment plan to provide some leeway, and request a clause that requires the landlord to contact them prior to filing for an eviction order so they have the benefit of some notice," Caryma Sa'd told Trapunski.

      Moreover, she stated that there's no legal obligation on tenants in Ontario to sign an agreement if they don't like it.

      It's unclear, however, in B.C. if there's zero legal obligation on tenants, given how the province has already created a framework for repayment plans.

      Plus, the B.C. government has offered two options on its website for tenants to resolve disputes with landlords.

      And nobody knows what changes may be coming to the Residential Tenancy Act or its regulations to ensure that the government's objectives are accomplished regarding 100 percent rent repayment.

      As a result of the pandemic, we may be entering murky legal waters with regard to landlord-tenant law in B.C.

      And we shouldn't be surprised if we hear a great deal more about rent repayment plans in the months and years to come.