The exemption of student housing from the BC Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) in 2002 left thousands of student tenants without rental rights. In the wake of this legislative change, student housing contracts have become one-sided, without due attention to procedural fairness, and often ignoring the rights of the tenant, in favour of the institution. These contracts treat student housing as university property and often overlook the fact that they are homes to the students who live there.
Examples of tenant rights absent in student housing range from their right to reasonable privacy in their own homes, to their right to an unbiased appeals process. These gaps are especially concerning in the context of the relationship between a post-secondary institution and their students, where significant power imbalances exist – the institution holds ultimate control over the academic future and living arrangements of the student.
For many reasons, the RTA is not suitable to the uniqueness of housing run by post-secondary institutions. The main reason for this is because the RTA does not allow the institution to reserve student housing for the exclusive use of students. This being said, student housing tenants should still receive the same protections afforded to their peers living off-campus. Separate legislation is therefore required to ensure equal protection under the law for students living in student housing, as all other tenants in BC.
The AMS at UBC, in partnership with the University of Victoria Student’s Society and the Simon Fraser Student Society, have developed nine recommendations for provincial legislation of student housing. These recommendations are designed to balance the need for student tenant rights, with the administrative challenges that post-secondary institutions face as operators and landlords of student housing. In principle, each recommendation is based on rights guaranteed by the RTA, and adapted to fit the unique structure and environment of student housing.
Any legislation of student housing should require that:
- Housing contracts explicitly list the rights of tenants, along with corresponding responsibilities of the tenant, similar to the U Vic residence contract. For example, you have the right to feel safe here; you have a responsibility to act in a way that does not endanger yourself or others.
- Housing contracts include an outline of a clear and specific process for tenants to report problems in their residence.
- Barring emergency or unforeseen circumstances, the institution must provide posted notice of entry to a unit at least 24 hours prior to said entry. The notice must also include a window of time in which that entry will occur. That window of time can be no greater than 72 hours. Housing may only enter rooms with less than 24 hours in the event that there is an emergency, and entry is necessary to protect life and/or property.
- Transfers between housing units are only permitted for reasons of safety, extended repairs, or as requested by a tenant. In the event that a room switch is initiated by the institution, the tenant should not be required to pay new residence or meal plan fees. This rule does not apply in cases where an individual’s conduct is the reason for the housing transfer.
- All institutions have a Community Standards Appeals Process, which will be a transparent committee group, composed of students and the option of faculty or staff. Similar to the Residence Standards Appeal Committee at UBCO, the committee members must have no relation to the student or student housing administration. In the event that a committee member is found to be in a conflict of interest, they can be removed from that particular committee hearing. When resident security and safety is at risk, the appeal committee process can be expedited using a pre-designated university official.
- In the event that a student is served with an eviction notice, they must receive at minimum, one month’s posted notice, regardless of the violation. If a resident has not paid their rent, the notice period is shortened to 10 days. The one month notice period can be waived only by a predesignated university official, in situations where safety and wellbeing of residents is at risk. In all cases, students still have the right to appeal the eviction through the Community Standards Appeals Process.
- The housing contract must explain what tenants can expect during a maintenance disruption, in addition to repair timelines. If residents believe that an outage has not been adequately addressed, they can file a complaint and request for compensation with the institution. If the institution does not approve the request, the decision can be appealed to the Community Standards Appeals Committee.
- The housing contract state that on continuing tenancies, the rate increases can be no more than that year’s inflation rate + 2%, and can only happen once every 12 months. Tenants must receive 3 whole months’ notice, in writing, of any rent increases. In the event of a proposed increase that is larger than the allowable rate, schools must engage in student consultation, and submit a proposal to the BC Ministry of Advanced Education.
- Housing contracts must explicitly list a calendar date as to the start and the end of the tenancy agreement. Institutions cannot evict residents prior to the end of the tenancy agreement, unless the student is served with eviction notice for community infractions. The contract end date must be at least 24 hours after the end of the official examination period as determined by the institution’s academic calendar. In the event that a student must stay past the contract end date, the University must provide explicit directions on how to temporarily extend the length of the contract.