Conference calls no way to settle tenant-landlord disputes

Easy to get that disconnected feeling:
Conference calls no way to settle tenant-landlord disputes

By Jon Ferry, The Province
December 16, 2009

It’s cold, it’s hard to get work and it’s tough to find an affordable place to rent these days, particularly in Metro Vancouver. Which is why the government must do all it can to ensure tenants aren’t being gouged.

When landlord-tenant disputes arise, B.C.’s housing ministry is supposed to resolve them through prompt and fair hearings, not leave either party on hold.

The trouble is, the vast majority of these hearings now are done by telephone conference call. And that, according to Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Herbert, is causing numerous problems — for seniors, the hard of hearing, those with limited English or those who simply get lost in the phone system.

“In some cases, they have called in at the appointed time, but have never been dialled through to the case, leading to their case being dismissed,” Herbert told me. “In many cases, the people I have spoken with have just given up or accepted rulings that might have been thrown out, had they had a fairer and more even process.”

Some landlords also find the conference calls frustrating. But it’s usually the tenants who come off worse, especially if they’re battling big property owners with seasoned staff.

Vancouver housing advocate Leslie Stern, who’s just been evicted from the False Creek townhome she has lived in for 25 years, says telephone hearings are impersonal and mechanical: “Everything seems biased towards a developer or a landlord who has staff and means.”

And Sharon Isaak, co-founder of the tenants’ rights group Renters at Risk, stresses they can be very confusing. “They say they’re making it streamlined, but it’s not,” she said, adding it’s nearly impossible for tenants who want a face-to-face hearing to get one.

Vernon mom June Ross, though, took on the system and won. Her 2007 application to recover money owed her by her landlord was initially dismissed by a dispute-resolution adjudicator on the grounds she’d failed to show up for the arranged telephone hearing.

That decision was upheld by a second adjudicator, but later dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The court found Ross had, in fact, followed instructions and had stayed on the line until it simply went dead. Indeed, Justice Joel Groves ordered the dispute to be reheard because the two adjudicators had “breached the rules of natural justice.”

Justice Groves said it was certainly not the first time in his experience that this type of problem had arisen, and he urged the Residential Tenancy Branch to provide a separate line for those experiencing call problems.

The B.C. housing ministry told me it appreciated both the court’s decision and its recommendation regarding hearing procedures. A spokesman said: “We do treat the process seriously.”

Well, if that’s the case, the ministry should make it seriously easier for folks to attend hearings in person — and not just at one Lower Mainland location.

Basic fairness is being compromised here. And tenants, as well as some landlords, are being left out in the cold.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Your Comments

J.Sharon R.
December 18, 2009 – 1:16 PM

This is response to the comment by Kristen – December, 2009 – 8:25 A.M.

It is just common sense to not rent to just anybody-but it is also probably wise of the tenant to not rent from just anybody.  Tenants should probably be checking out the landlords’ credibility and also to see if the landlord/s understand their responsibilities and not just the ‘monetary’ gains of being a landlord.  Renting a residence is a business. It is a source of income. And every business in B.C. has rules and laws which govern it – the rental business is no exception.

Chris Budgell
December 17, 2009 – 12:15 PM

I’m a tenant myself, but I’ve avoided getting into any dispute with my current or previous landlords.  I’ve had a great deal of experience though challenging B.C.’s regime of “administrative tribunals” and, regrettably, the courts themselves.  This article caught my attention primarily because I was forced to participate in two conference calls, each of them with the same three lawyers.  I have no hesitation in characterizing each of those experiences as an ambush.  I wish I had recorded those calls.  Had I done so, I would have posted the recordings online so the public would know what goes on.

I just checked the web site of the “Board Resourcing Office” expecting to find a record for this Residential Tenancy Branch.  I should have realized it wouldn’t be there because it is not a “board”, “commission” or “tribunal”, but a “branch”.  Yet it apparently conducts adjudication.  We are awash in over-paid, incompetent adjudicators.  Maybe if we culled the herd a bit we wouldn’t need the HST

December 16, 2009 – 11:34 PM

I’ve been through the system.  It is a farce.   Campbell and Coleman cut off the funds to the  Rentals office, stacked the deck with appointed  DRO’s, and made the whole system so unpleasant  that  BC might as well not have landlord- tenant laws.  The system is rotten to the core.  No accountability either, they don’t keep stats on what is going on at that tribunal.

about to blow
December 16, 2009 – 9:39 PM

The Residential tenancy branch is the biggest joke in British Columbia.  They are absolutely biased towards the landlord.

I lived in a building that was in such disrepair it was shut down by BC Hydro and city officials, yet the tenancy branch would not allow the 6 tenants to file a group complaint.  Their reasoning?  The tenants in the building all paid different rents and the adjudicator couldn’t make  a different monetary decision for each tenant.

It was explained to the tenancy branch that instead of hearing about a long term pattern of complete disregard for tenancy law by the landlord, the adjudicator would only hear one individual case, and would not have the full picture.

It was also explained that this was absolutely unfair to the tenants – at which point the security guard decided to make himself shown.

Big brother, gotta love him.

December 16, 2009 – 8:25 PM

And this is why no one wants to rent to just anyone these days….renters have too many rights and landlords have too few when they are the ones opening their homes to those that choose not to or can’t afford to buy.

December 16, 2009 – 8:28 AM

Is anyone really surprised at this? The BC govt couldn’t care less about renters.  Developers & Business really run this town and their control of the Tenants Rights Branch is inevitable. The slumlords are part of this elite network that keeps Campbell Inc. in business year after year. Brilliant move on their part…create a phone maze that no one will ever be able to access, and business wins again!