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Are people tipping their Metro Vancouver landlords? Find out what that means

Vancouverites have sparked an impassioned debate on social media about some renting behaviours.

Metro Vancouver tenants have more than just nasty roommates and bed bugs to contend with. 

While it can already be depressing to browse through rental advertisements with sky-high costs, attending a viewing for one can leave potential tenants feeling rather discouraged. 

Vancouverite Jennifer Bradshaw has been living with her partner in her current apartment for over a year and says she's happy with her set-up. However, the journey to contentment involved searching through an extremely competitive rental market.

In one instance, around 100 renter hopefuls applied for an apartment in Vancouver's West End. 

"It was wild. There was a lineup of about 20 people," she notes, adding that people were exuberantly vying for the popular pad. 

"[The owners] were offering I think it was like $1,500 for like over 600 square feet [on] the west side of Vancouver," she tells V.I.A. "And so there are so many applicants and everybody was pitching her, "Oh, yeah, I'll be excellent, the best tenant you've ever had... I'll take good care of the place."

Although she struggled to find reasonably-priced accommodation with her partner, Bradshaw notes that it is easier for her to find housing in a dual-income home working in an industry with higher-paying jobs. She has friends who have been discriminated against as solo renters or who work in low-income industries.

The local woman recently tweeted about tenants tipping their landlords in situations where there is rent control, resulting in an impassioned discussion in the comments about the city's unaffordable market. 

Competition increases as Metro Vancouver rent prices soar 

Rob Patterson, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC), says "landlord tipping" isn't something he's come across often in his role. But he says there are many ways landlords may try to swindle tenants without raising the rent. 

During the pandemic's provincial rent freeze, for example, some landlords found creative ways to collect money from tenants without illegally raising the rent. 

"What we saw a lot of times was landlords saying, "We're not increasing your rent, but you have this agreement with us for parking [and] we're going to say that it is separate from your tenancy agreement."

While the cases must be evaluated on an individual basis, Patterson notes that this was one "sneaky" way that property owners could make things difficult. Other ways they may try to do this is by charging for laundry services or more than what the utilities cost.

But there are ways renters can fight back if they believe their landlord has illegally restricted or terminated a non-essential service. 

Technically, a landlord can withdraw a tenant's parking but they must provide one month's written notice on the proper form and must also subtract the value of that service from the rent. 

"I think the tenant has a pretty reasonable case to say that the value of the service is what I have to pay to get it somewhere else," he noted. 

When asked if there were any laws preventing a landlord from accepting cash, gifts, or other incentives from eager prospective tenants, Patterson said he wasn't aware of any rule prohibiting this. 

Since most B.C. rental units do not have rent control, landlords can charge the next tenant whatever they want. And while this prevents bizarre scenarios, such as landlord tipping -- where landlords with rent-controlled units favour prospective renters who will offer them cash under the table -- there are other issues, such as spiking rents and unethical evictions. 

"It also creates this perverse incentive for landlords to try and evict tenants. And unfortunately, it's often the tenants that have been living there the longest and have the lowest rent....usually the most vulnerable, seniors, and have people on fixed incomes...that have the biggest targets painted on their backs," he explained. 

Tenants who have faced discrimination under section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code can contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal for assistance. This means they have been discriminated against because of their "Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or lawful source of income of that person or class of persons, or of any other person or class of persons."

Find out more information about applying for dispute resolution with TRAC online.