A small B.C. landlord says he can barely keep up with expenses after his tenant began withholding rent this summer, and the months-long wait for a hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to resolve the matter has led to severe financial distress.
Abdelnasser Samara has been renting out a Burnaby condo unit since 2017. He, his wife and three children used to live in the unit, but the family decided to upgrade to a townhouse.
"The two-bedroom apartment was not large enough to have two girls and one boy, and you know how it goes, with boys and girls, they like to have their privacy," Samara said.
So, he took out a loan on the original condo to make a down payment on the townhome. He's been renting out the condo for $2,200 per month, using the income to help meet the two mortgages.
But Samara says a dispute over sharing a copy of newly-cut keys led to his tenant withholding rent starting in July.
His next move was to go to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to request a hearing to get the matter sorted out. The RTB responded on Sept. 7 with a date for his hearing: Jan. 10, 2023, five months away.
"Without the rental income, I'm borrowing the money from my line of credit, and I'm falling behind, and it stresses me out. And, you know, it's just affecting my family, my income. I feel myself helpless and hopeless."
Growing delays in landlord-tenant disputes
British Columbia's Residential Tenancy Branch sets out regulations for all housing agreements between landlords and tenants in the province and provides arbitrators to handle disputes when they arise.
But those disputes are taking longer to be heard as the organization deals with a growing number of applications resulting in delays for people like Samara to have their cases resolved.
Number of weeks needed for B.C. tenancy branch hearings
In the statement, the RTB said it has received an average of 1,832 applications per month this year, compared to 1,200 per month between 2017 and 2020.
As a result, hearings that were once dealt with in a matter of weeks are now taking months to be resolved.
The branch provided a comparison of wait times in February 2020 — the first time monthly numbers were tracked — to current waits for different hearing types to help illustrate the change.
While in February 2020, emergency disputes would typically take less than a week to resolve, the branch says there is a 4.1-week wait on average. Regular hearings in February 2020 would typically be resolved in five weeks, but in September 2022 are estimated to be 14.9 weeks.
And although those numbers are down from earlier this year, the elevated waits are still causing problems all across the province, said David Hutniak, the CEO of LandlordBC.
"Hearings that should be happening in, you know, six to 10 weeks or less are taking months. And it's the possession hearings that this landlord referred to that's particularly challenging right now."
State of stress for those waiting
It's not just landlords who are feeling the effects of extended wait times for RTB hearings.
Robert Patterson is a lawyer and tenant advocate at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre. He says the biggest issue he's seen for tenants is when hearings over eviction notices are set to take place after the date of an eviction, meaning that if they lose an appeal, they can, and often are, forced to move out within 48 hours.
"In the majority of cases, I think telling anyone that they have 48 hours to get all of their belongings out of their home and find another place to live, the most rational and common result is going to be that they are homeless," said Patterson.
Hutniak and Patterson both agree the RTB is not currently delivering timely and efficient access to the justice system for either landlords or tenants.
The RTB said in a statement that over the past two years, they have worked on hiring more arbitrators and creating a more efficient dispute resolution system.
In the meantime, small landlords and tenants are left in a state of stress, waiting months to resolve disputes.
Samara says he doesn't know what will happen after his hearing in January and is worried about the future of his finances.
"I don't have the place for free to rent. I pay off my mortgages. I have three loans on it. I barely can keep up with expenses, and I want to keep this apartment as future security for myself, for my retirement, for my children."