Being a landlord in British Columbia means having to deal with lots of paperwork. As with any business closely regulated by a government body, there are copious amounts of confusing rules and procedures on how this paperwork can be served. Not knowing these rules and procedure can mean all the difference when dealing with a tenant or the Residential Tenancy Branch. Certain methods of service have delays to allow the other party the chance to receive the document before the notice becomes effective. There also some methods of service that may seem like a common sense method of service but are actually prohibited. Additionally, some methods cannot be used for certain documents.
Section 88 of the Residential Tenancy Act (the Act) sets out the different methods of service that can be used for most documents. They are:
- Leaving a copy directly to the tenant;
- Sending a copy by ordinary or registered mail (Canada Post) to the tenant’s address or forwarding address;
- Leaving a copy at the unit with an adult who appears to reside at the rental unit;
- Leaving a copy in the mail box of mail slot associated with the residential property;
- Attaching a copy to the door or other conspicuous place;
- Sending a fax to a number provided by the tenant as a number that has been provided by the tenant.
Serving a document in any other manner can nullify the notice being served, meaning you would have to re-serve the document for it to be effective. Having to reserve documents can cause lengthy delays and unneeded hassle.
There are several methods that are commonly used but are not actually allowed under the Act. The most common is sliding a document under the door. This would seem like a common sense method that should be allowed but it is not a method listed by the Act and its prohibition is actually rooted in a valid concern. Most people have mats just inside their door and it is not uncommon for papers slid under a door to also slide under a mat.
Couriers are a fast way to get documents to someone and they often have great tracking systems so you can know for sure if your recipient has received their package, but unfortunately couriers are not a listed method of service and should not be used. Expedited mail through Canada Post is also not listed by the Act.
Email is one of the most convenient and fast ways of sending information and you can use various tools to ensure your recipient has received and read your email. This, however, is also not currently allowed by the Act. Email can still be used to communicate information that does not need to be served in an official manner to your tenant. If you need to let your tenant know you are going by the property to mow the lawn (ie. not entering the unit) or if you want to let your tenant know about construction on their street, email is a perfectly acceptable means of communication.
Aside from giving a copy of a document directly to the tenant or to an adult that resides in the rental unit, all service options have some sort of delay. This delay is intended to ensure the recipient has in fact received the document or at least that enough time has passed that it can be reasonably assumed they have received the document.
Posting a copy on the door, putting a copy in a mail box or through a mail slot all incur a delay of three (3) days. This delay is incurred even in situations where you are aware that the tenant has received the notice before the end of the delay. We also recommend having a witness if you use any of these methods to serve a document.
Registered or regular mail is a common way to send documents after a tenancy has ended or in situations where you are not in the same locale as the tenant. Both methods incur a five (5) day delay even if you can see via registered mail that they have picked up the documents before the delay period has elapsed. We generally recommend that you use registered mail when dealing with litigious tenants or tenants that you have a less than perfect relationship with. While regular mail is an approved method of service, there is no way of proving that you actually sent anything so we suggest only using this method in situations where you know you have a positive relationship with your tenants.
Faxing documents to tenants is a rare occurrence but if you find yourself in a situation where you must fax a document to your tenant there is a delay of three (3) days. Most fax machines will also provide a receipt showing the recipient actually received the documents. We suggest keeping a copy of this in your files in the event you need to prove service.
The delays for each method of service apply no matter what document you are serving. So, for example, if you serve a 24-hour notice of entry by posting it on the door, your tenant will not be considered served for another three days. Once the notice is considered served, you still have to wait the 24 hours to enter the unit. If you post the notice to enter on the tenants door on Monday at noon you would not be able to enter the property until Friday.
When counting days in your delay you never include the day you actually served the notice. For example, for a notice served Monday by posting it on the door, Tuesday is day-1, Wednesday is day-2 and Thursday is day-3. The third day is the day the tenant is deemed to have received the notice and such notice comes into effect.
Special Methods for Special Documents
Most documents can be served using any of the proved methods of service listed in section 88 of the Act. However, there are a few exceptions for documents relating to dispute resolution proceedings. An application for dispute resolution (notice of proceedings) or a decision of a director to proceed with a review of a previous decision must only be served by giving a copy directly to the tenant or by registered mail to the tenant’s address or forwarding address.
If the dispute resolution hearing is in regards to an order of possession, you can also serve your documents by leaving a copy with an adult who resides at the rental unit or by attaching a copy to the door or other conspicuous place at the address where the tenant resides.