Guide to renting in British Columbia
- Unfurnished rentals are for usually for a minimum of a year - and you will be expected to sign a lease for that period.
- Leases begin on 1st of the month or occasionally 15th
- Check what is included in the rent. In most cases you pay the hydro (electricity) and other utilities.
- The landlord will expect a security deposit of 2 week’s rent. If you have pets there will be a pet deposit of another 2 week’s rent.
- There is a condition inspection at the beginning and end of the tenancy. The landlord may deduct money from your deposit for damage or cleaning - with your agreement.
- Many landlords will not accept pets. Some may not even want children.
- Furnished rentals are more expensive than unfurnished ones but may include some or all of your utilities.
- Rent often includes such things as hydro (electricity), tv and internet. Check what is included with your landlord.
- Rental periods can start on any day and be for any length of time. Usually the minimum period will be a month or two otherwise they may have to charge hotel tax.
It is hard to find rentals (some areas have 1% vacancy rates or lower). Allow time to find somewhere. If you are planning on renting long term it is worth staying in an unfurnished place initially so that you have time to find a suitable long term rental.
Beware of scams on internet sites like craigslist. Don’t pay money in advance unless you have verified the landlord or agent’s details.
Residential Tenancy Act
This section covers renting for longer periods of time. In B.C. the rental market is governed by the Residential Tenancy Act.
The most important aspects to note are:
Residential tenancy agreement
When you rent a property you will have to sign a Residential Tenancy Agreement (i.e. a lease). This is a standard agreement, as laid down by the Residential Tenancy Act. You can get the agreement form from the Residential Tenancy Office
Period of tenancy
The residential tenancy agreement specifies the length of the tenancy. Usually the period will be a year, but you may be able to get a rolling month-to-month agreement or even a weekly or bi-weekly rolling agreement.
If you agree to a fixed period, then you will be committed to this. You cannot usually get out of the tenancy without losing your deposit. With the landlord’s agreement you may be able to assign or sub-let your tenancy.
The tenancy agreement also specifies what happens at the end of the fixed period. The most common practice is for the tenancy agreement to continue on a month to month basis at the end of the year. Alternatively you may agree to leave the premises at the end of the initial period.
The tenancy agreement specifies the rent, when it is paid and what it covers. Be careful to check what is included. A cheaper apartment, for example, may not include electricity or heat. Don’t assume that the parking stall is included.
The landlord will require a security deposit. This cannot be more than half of the monthly rent. The landlord is obliged to repay this deposit at the end of the tenancy agreement with interest calculated on the basis defined by the Residential Tenancy Act.
If the landlord allows pets then there could also be a Pet Damage Deposit. This is also limited to half of the monthly rent, and is repaid with interest when you leave.
The Residential Tenancy Act requires the landlord and tenant inspect the property together when:
- the tenancy starts
- the tenancy ends
- before the tenant gets a pet
The two of you go around the property and mark down any damage or items that need attention. There is a standard form for this, though the landlord can use their own form as long as it is broadly similar and allows you as the tenant to sign your agreement to the condition report.
The Act says that rent can only be increased annually. The landlord must give 90 days notice of a rent increase.
Generally the rent can only be increased by a maximum of the Consumer Price Index plus 2%. The allowable rent increases for 2005 for residential tenancies is 3.8%.
If the landlord requests a larger increase then you can dispute this and take it to arbitration with the Residential Tenancy Office.
Ending a lease
Fixed term leases generally lock the tenant in for the whole period - you cannot leave prior to the end of the lease. The only escape is to assign or sub-let. This option applies to terms of over 6 months, in which case the landlord cannot unreasonably stop you from assigning or sub-letting.
For month to month leases, you must give the landlord a written, signed notice providing the complete address of the rental unit and the date when you plan to move out. You must give a a minimum of one clear month’s notice. It should be given on or before last day of a rental payment period so that it is effective on the last day of the subsequent rental payment period.
At the end of the tenancy, you and the landlord should inspect the property and agree on it’s condition. This will determine what money, if any, the landlord can retain from your security and pet damage deposits.
Rental advert terms
Here is a guide to the abbreviations and terms you may find in ad’s for rental property.
Air conditioning, probably central, coming through the heat vents. It could mean air conditioning units that fit in the windows.
is a self-contained unit with its own private entrance in either a house, a lowrise or a highrise building.
Appliances. All apartments must have a refrigerator fridge and stove. Some also have a dishwasher, clothes washer and clothes dryer.
bathroom, seen as 2 ba, 1 ba etc.
- bach or bachelor
an apartment consisting of one room serving as bedroom and living room, with a separate bathroom.
a very small bachelor apartment.
balcony. Usually in a highrise, a balcony gives a bit of extra space and usually will have a gas outlet for your gas barbeque.
- basement, bsmt
apartment in the basement of a house.
- BR or bdrm
Bedroom. The number of bedrooms helps determine the rent charged.
cable TV usually called “cable” is television service by wire instead of antenna. Cable TV has more channels and better reception than regular TV. Some apartments offer “free” cable. That means the rent includes the monthly cable fee.
caretaker - there is a caretaker on the premises.
Usually seen in form 1 br/den or 2 br/den - i.e. one bedroom with den. A den is a small area that can be used as a study or home office but is not big enough to be a bedroom.
- family room
Separate from the living room, and usually used for casual entertaining.
A flat is an apartment in a house. You share the front entrance with other tenants. You can lock the door to your flat.
means a furnished apartment. A furnished apartment should include: bed(s), table(s), chairs, lamps, curtains, fridge, stove, and basic kitchen utensils. Furnished apartments may be more expensive than unfurnished apartments. Ask the landlord to clean the furniture and carpets before you move in.
- hrdwd, h/w
One bedroom apartment. Larger than a bachelor but smaller than a regular one-bedroom.
- NS, n/s or non-smkr
Some landlords will not rent to people who smoke, especially in shared apartments. The Residential Tenancy Act allows landlords to exclude smokers (and pets).
- sq. ft.
square feet. A 400 sq. ft. apartment is small: 2000 sq. ft. is very large. To convert square feet to square metres, multiply by 0.09. For instance, a 2,000 square foot apartment is 2,000x 0.09=180 square metres.
stainless steel - referring to the appliances.
suite. This means the apartment includes cooking facilities.
Same as bachelor.
Utilities. These include electricity for lights, stoves, microwaves; gas, oil or electricity (hydro) for heat; cable TV; telephone and water. You pay for utilities yourself, or through your rent. Most highrise apartments include electricity, water and heat in the rent. You pay extra for phone and cable TV. In a house converted to apartments utilities are often in addition to rent. If the ad gives the rent followed by a plus sign ($695+), it means you pay utilities. Ask what utilities are included in the rent and what you must pay for.
- 1 prkg
one parking spot with the apartment (2 prkg would mean two spots, and so on.) Highrise apartments often have underground parking, with each apartment having an assigned parking space. The rent may or may not include the cost of the parking space.
a walk-out door to a deck or balcony, usually off the kitchen.
Note that there are variations on these terms and probably new ones coming along. Newer apartment buildings often have high speed internet included.
Also beware that some buildings have restrictions that you need to know about. For example pet restrictions are common, and in urban centres you can find age restrictions, such as no children or even a minimum age, such as over 40.
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