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Metro Vancouver landlords may hike fees instead of rent. Here's what tenants need to know

Some B.C. landlords find sneaky ways to increase rent.
BC landlords must adhere to strict rules for increasing or withdrawing services since many of them, such as laundry, parking, and internet, count as rent.

Metro Vancouver landlords may increase the cost of on-site services for tenants, such as laundry and internet, or drop some non-essential ones, and those fees aren't included in the rent.

But landlords can't start charging more for services or get rid of them without notifying tenants. And, depending on the amount of the increase, renters may have a case for dispute resolution with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). 

Rob Patterson, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC), says landlords found creative ways to collect money from tenants without illegally raising the rent during the pandemic's provincial rent freeze.

"What we saw a lot of times was landlords saying, 'We're not increasing your rent, but you have this agreement with us for parking [and] we're going to say that it is separate from your tenancy agreement.'"

While cases must be evaluated individually, Patterson notes that this is one "sneaky" way property owners can make things difficult. They may also try to do this by charging significantly more for laundry services or more than what the utilities cost.

Technically, a landlord can withdraw a tenant's parking but must provide one month's written notice on the proper form and subtract that service's value from the rent. Similarly, if they get rid of laundry services - but this service was included in the tenancy agreement - they must subtract the cost the tenant requires to do their laundry elsewhere from the monthly rent. 

The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) defines rent as the money paid or agreed to be paid by the tenant to the landlord "for the right to possess a rental unit, for the use of common areas and for services or facilities."

Landlords must adhere to strict rules for increasing or withdrawing services

Renters can fight back if they believe their landlord has illegally restricted or terminated a non-essential service or increased costs above allowable limits.

Landlords can't legally withdraw or restrict essential services, "so things like heat and hot water can be taken," said Patterson. If they shut off a tenant's heat or hot water, the tenant can apply to the RTB for an expedited hearing. 

Expedited hearings are "used when the issue is both serious and urgent" to issue landlords a tight response deadline. 

Tenants also have recourse for situations that don't involve essential services.

In a 2014 dispute, the RTB ordered a landlord to reduce the cost of rent of each of their tenants' rent by $50 to compensate for increasing the cost of coin-operated laundry for the washing cycle from $1.75 to $4.50. It ruled that laundry services are considered "rent" under the tenancy agreement and must only be increased by the allowable annual limit (3.5 per cent in 2024).

"The shape of the argument is still the same," Patterson notes, adding that tenants must pay $100 to file a claim but may be eligible for a fee waiver if they earn a low income or receive government assistance or disability. If they win the dispute, they will be reimbursed for the claim. 

Patterson says tenants should look out for predatory landlord behaviour. In some instances, landlords have pretended they were subletting a unit instead of owning it so they could ask the tenant to pay more to stay, or they say the cost of heating or internet has increased exponentially. 

Find out more information about applying for dispute resolution with TRAC online.