Kaley Antaya has been a renter in B.C. for 14 years, but she says she has never faced as many problems as when she started dealing with the tight rental market in Vancouver.
Last year, Antaya's living situation went sideways after her roommate, Amy Wutzke, listed a third bedroom for short-term rentals on Airbnb.
"It was a nightmare," Antaya said over the phone. "I felt completely unsafe."
Antaya, 33, left without giving 30 days' notice, as per her agreement with Wutzke. But when Antaya moved out, her roommate refused to refund her $400 damage deposit.
Antaya says she learned that in B.C., roommates not listed on a lease are considered occupants and have no rights under the Residential Tenancy Act, which sets baseline rules for agreements between tenants and landlords in the province.
Robert Patterson, a staff member at the B.C. Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC), says many people, trying to save money by living with roommates aren't aware of this.
For that reason, Patterson said it's important for people to put an agreement in writing.
Antaya says that could be useful, but she would prefer if the Residential Tenancy Act were updated to better reflect the current housing market.
"At least have some policies in place where occupants can go through the same motions as tenants," she said.
Wutzke, a social work student who now lives in Prince George, refused to comment on the decision but said she was "furious" about it.
No red flags — at first
Antaya moved into the three-bedroom apartment near Main Street and 41st Avenue with Wutzke and another roommate in April 2019.
She has a fulltime government job as an administrative assistant, but says living with roommates is all she can afford in Vancouver.
Antaya says she had found the apartment on Craigslist. Wutzke and the other roommate seemed nice. There were no red flags.
According to the tribunal decision, another person soon replaced the third roommate but left shortly afterwards. Wutzke told the tribunal she decided to make up for the shortfall in rent by listing that room for short-term rentals on Airbnb.
As the only person on the lease, Wutzke would have been the sole person legally responsible for paying rent. Lease holders have legal rights under the Residential Tenancy Act, but they also have responsibilities that roommates, or occupants, typically don't.
Antaya and Wutzke clashed about whether Antaya had agreed to the Airbnb scenario, and whether she had cleaned her room upon moving out.
The tribunal decided that the Airbnb guests violated the agreement between the two roommates, and Antaya's photo and video evidence proved she had cleaned the room.
Patterson, of TRAC, said Antaya's case points to the complications that can arise between roommates.
Antaya was lucky to be able to take her complaint to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, which resolves small claims less than $5,000. But he says non-monetary issues like evictions have to go to B.C. Supreme Court, which can be lengthy and expensive.
Roommates were covered under the Residential Tenancy Act until about five years ago, Patterson says, but that also posed challenges because it wasn't clear if one roommate could make changes to the lease or if everyone had to be in agreement.
Having all roommates listed on a lease also poses challenges, Patterson says. A new tenancy agreement has to be rewritten every time someone moves out, he says, which opens the door to rent increases above the allowable 2.5 per cent.
In the absence of any rights, Patterson advises taking the time to come up with a detailed agreement between roommates.
"At the beginning of any kind of living scenario everyone is assuming that things are going to go well," he said. "Be imaginative in terms of what issues you think could come up."