How to handle rental disputes with landlords

What to do when conflict breaks out between tenants and landlord

Tenants and landlords have important financial and contractual obligations to each other, so when things go south, disputes between landlords and tenants can erupt.

Most disputes between landlords and tenants often focus on:

  • Late payments
  • Damages to the unit or excessive noise
  • Getting security deposits back
  • Repairs not getting made
  • Privacy issues
  • Utilities (who pays for them, or for example, the heat not being high enough if included in the rent)
  • Eviction notices

Living in harmony in rental accommodation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run away from conflict; you can sometimes find common ground and easily resolve the dispute with your landlord with informal communication. If that doesn’t work, you may have no alternative but to seek legal action or arbitration, and there’s help available!


Avoiding a tenant-landlord dispute

01 Read the lease

The lease or rental agreement is a very important document that can facilitate or obstruct your efforts at a peaceful resolution to conflict. If your lease has fair terms that protect both you and your landlord, it will go a long way towards making your life as a tenant hassle-free. If you are within your rights as stipulated by the lease, you stand on firmer ground; conversely, if your actions are prohibited in your lease, then your landlord may have good cause to complain.

02 Pay your rent on time

Disputes often arise because of money. If you want to avoid problems – and possibly an eviction notice – pay your rent on time, all the time. Not only can you use this is negotiating a compromise with the landlord, but it will also demonstrate your maturity and reliability if the conflict escalates to arbitration or court. Never withhold paying rent as a reaction to a dispute: this can immediately place you in the wrong. Pay first, and deal with the dispute afterwards.

03Maintain the property

As a tenant, keeping the property in good condition can demonstrate that you are not the cause of a maintenance dispute. Normal wear-and-tear is always expected, but damages (e.g. holes in walls) are the tenant’s responsibility and may be the reason the landlord gives for refusing to return your damage deposit, for example.

If sinks, toilets, or appliances break out of daily use, this isn’t your fault but you should notify your landlord as soon as possible. A leak left unattended, for example, could damage not just your apartment but neighbouring ones. If damage is caused by an accident, speak to your landlord immediately about it – don’t wait until the final inspection the day you move out.

04Document everything

Even if you get along really well with your landlord from the beginning, keep a record of anything to do with you rental apartments. Peopl e can change, and in the case of legal action, can mean the difference between winning and losing.

You should have a copy of your lease, but also any correspondence between you and the landlord, receipts, and dates/topics of conversations you have with your landlord about your rental. When you move in, take photos of the apartment – walls, furniture, appliances, etc. – to document the condition it’s in. This will back up your claim to your deposit when you move out. When you do move out, have the landlord sign a document stating that you left the rental apartment in good condition.

05Be professional

Recognizing and understanding how you deal with conflict is the first step to resolving it. To stop a conflict from escalating – or even from ever starting – stay professional at all ties to resolve your tenant-landlord dispute. If the discussion starts to disintegrate, walk away and continue another day. If you’re unable to resolve your differences, then use letters and notices to correspond, and always keep a copy.

Find out more about techniques and tips on how to resolve conflict before it becomes unmanageable.


Resolving a tenant-landlord dispute

01Stay calm, whatever the conflict

The first step to resolving any conflict is to keep your calm and allow the other person to express themselves without losing your temper. Getting angry and losing control can quickly escalate into verbal abuse or worse. Staying Zen will allow you to think clearly, set the tone for the conversation, and understand where you’re both coming from. In case the situation worsens, your calm demeanour will lend you credibility in the face of a third party.

02Try face-to-face communication

Trying to resolve an issue over the phone or by email can make it worse: it’s easier to say things we don’t mean, and harder to understand tone and expression. Meet face-to-face to explain your perspective, listen to the landlord’s point of view, and see if you can find a mutually acceptable compromise. A good honest conversation may be enough to resolve a dispute.

If this doesn’t work, make sure that you have a paper/digital trail and document everything from the moment talks break down. Put it all in writing and keep a record of your communications with your landlords, including dates.

03Find a compromise

Before you take it further to arbitration or litigation, try to reach a settlement together. The longer a dispute continues, the harder it is to resolve. Compromise where you can, in an amicable fashion. Disputes don’t always have to end in coercion, eviction, or litigation. Sometimes – though not always – you can reach a compromise that will make it easier to live peacefully in your rented accommodation.

04Know your rights

Tenants have access to several resources to help them resolve disputes with landlords. Knowledge is the key to success when it comes to resolving disputes – you have to know what the legislation says for those times when it’s not possible to reach an agreement.

Contact your local and provincial authorities, and any relevant agencies, to get advice before you take it any further. Check the list below for resources available in your province.

05Take it to mediation

If you’re not able to solve the problem together, your next step is to take the issue to mediation. In each province, specialized agencies help tenants and landlords resolve problems without having to resort to legal action. An impartial arbitrator listens to both tenant and landlord in the dispute and finds a logical solution. There is often a fee involved for mediation, but it will most likely be cheaper than resorting to hiring a lawyer for a claim in court.

06Dispute Resolution and arbitration

If mediation fails, there is another option before you try the Small Claims Court. Every province has to enforce the Residential Tenancy Act, which gives tenants and landlords access to dispute resolution to settle problems. Dispute Resolution is one step beyond mediation and is similar to a court hearing for landlords and tenants. The Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator makes a decision on how to solve the problem and both parties are bound to accept the decision.

Either you or the landlord can file an application for Dispute Resolution. Sometimes, this is enough for one party or the other to back down and reach a compromise. See below for a list of resources for rental disputes.

07The last resort: litigation

As a last resort, a dispute can be resolved in court… but it won’t be cheap! Hiring a lawyer can be costly, and the process will be time-consuming. If you take your landlord to court, be prepared with documentation and good arguments. Sometimes, two lawyers can find a solution by speaking to each other – before going to court. If this doesn’t work and you go to court, even if you win, you then have to enforce the ruling against the landlord, which can also be complicated and exhausting. Be prepared!

The best thing you can do is to try to prevent rental disputes with your landlord by making sure your lease protects you properly, by maintaining good relations with your landlord, and by keeping to your end of the bargain!

Tenant-landlord dispute resolution resources by province