Wait times for B.C. renters to get help from the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) have been reduced by between 44 and 84 per cent, depending on the service, the B.C. NDP government announced November 21.
A cash injection into the RTB in fall 2017 has resulted in the hiring of 15 new information services staff and 10 new dispute resolution experts. The branch has also launched a revamped online dispute resolution portal, which guides applicants through the process and allows for uploading of digital evidence.
The combination of more staffing and an online dispute resolution portal has resulted in dramatically faster wait times compared with the system “under the previous government,” according to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. These improvements range from 44 per cent less time on average to wait for payment from a resolved dispute, down to 14.6 weeks, to an 84 per cent cut in hold time to reach an RTB officer by phone, from 45 minutes on average to eight minutes.
Housing minister Selina Robinson stated, “A lack of investment under the previous government led to long wait times and made it hard for landlords and renters to access the services they needed.’
The ministry said that online applications for dispute resolution have nearly doubled since the new system was introduced. The revamped system also allows for online payment, or an online fee waiver application for eligible applicants.
“The Residential Tenancy Branch’s service portal has been a big improvement over its previous online application process,” said Andrew Sakamoto, executive director, Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre. “In particular, the ability to apply for fee waiver applications and upload evidence online have been two of the most useful features of the new system.”
Spencer Chandra Herbert, chair of the province’s Rental Housing Task Force and MLA for Vancouver-West End, said, “Renters and landlords told our Rental Task Force that long wait times when trying to get information or help from the Residential Tenancy Branch made stressful situations worse and needed to be fixed by the B.C. government. I am pleased to see that the recent multimillion-dollar investment our government made is making a real difference in cutting wait times and getting renters and rental housing providers the help they need when they need it.”
The announcement comes on the day that the Urban Development Institute has raised concerns about the Rental Housing Task Force recommending possible changes to the Residential Tenancy Act – most notably the idea of “vacancy control” tying annual rent hike caps to a unit rather than a tenant. The UDI’s survey of its members suggest that some 12,000 of the planned new rental units in development could be put at risk of delay or cancellation if such a measure were introduced.
The Rental Housing Task Force is due to submit its next set of recommended changes to the Residential Tenancy Act by the end of November.