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Navigating rental agreements

September 11, 2023
Author: Michael Witcomb, Off-Campus Housing Coordinator

Common off-campus rental housing issues

As we start a new school year, many students will be moving into new off-campus rental housing. There can be a lot of unfamiliar language to navigate so it pays to know the basics. This is especially true when vacancy rates are low and we see an increase in unfortunate cases of malpractice. Last year, The Tenants Advice and Advisory Centre stated that about 7 per cent of their inquiries were about no written agreements, illegal fees or breaking leases. Here’s a quick run-down of some common issues VIU’s Off-Campus Housing office offers support for. 

Rental contracts, contracting out and non-RTA agreements

Is your rental covered by the Residential Tenancy Act? If so, it’s important that your landlord has completed your agreement correctly. For example, we are seeing more fixed-term (one year) leases as these offer more security to the landlord. For them to take back possession of the unit at the end of the year, they must provide a legally legitimate reason. Landlords renting to students may sometimes assume their tenants will move out after a year and don’t complete the standard agreement section correctly. This could mean that the lease automatically becomes a month-to-month agreement.

We also see landlords’ own created agreements. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, but it’s worth knowing that landlords cannot simply “contract out” of BC rental law. For example, it’s not uncommon to see home-made agreements limiting or banning guests. The RTA is clear, however, that the landlord “must not impose restrictions on guests” or “stop the tenant from having guests under reasonable circumstances.”

Are you living in your landlord’s own home? Are you sharing a kitchen and/or bathroom with them? The likelihood is that you are not covered by the RTA. This means that your arrangement is a much more informal “occupancy.” Any agreement about rent payments and notice periods, for example, are between you and the landlord and, in the case of a dispute, subject to a civil court ruling. Sometimes we see fixed-term-style agreements, which are not bound by tenancy law. Still, it’s good to have everything clearly agreed from the start. The VIU Rental Guide and Agreement (non-RTA) is recommended to live-in landlords and tenants to help everyone get off to a great start.

Condition inspections

Did you complete a condition inspection when you moved in? Your landlord must complete a walk through with you, complete a paper record of the condition of the unit and give you a copy – signed by both of you – within seven days. You must also agree to take part in an inspection within two offers. If this is not done, either you or the landlord may lose the right to keep any of your security deposit when you move out.

Deposits, rent, fees and receipts

Did you pay first and last month’s rent on top of your deposit? Was your deposit more than half a month’s rent? BC’s law on deposits and rental fees is very clear about what a landlord can’t ask for. Also, if application fees or cleaning charges are added in, it is worth questioning. As always, for any payments, get receipts from your landlord.

More support

VIU Off-Campus Housing is available to all students for support with these and all rental accommodation questions. Please feel free to contact Off-Campus Housing or book a meeting. Want to learn more? VIU Rent Wise is a free, short course that will equip you better for renting off-campus. Let us know if you’re interested in the next session!


Michael Witcomb is VIU’s Off-Campus Housing Coordinator.

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