The Residential Tenancy Branch’s (RTB) Rules of Procedure provide that dispute resolution hearings may be held (1) by telephone conference call, (2) in person, (3) in writing, (4) by video conference or (5) by any combination of these formats. In practice, the default format is by way of a telephone conference call. A party may make a written request to the RTB that the hearing be held in another acceptable format. In that case, the party will have to outline why a telephone hearing is not appropriate, practical or even possible. For example, a party or party’s witness may have a hearing disability that would make it impossible or impractical for them to attend by way of telephone conference.
Barring any approved modifications to the default hearing format, each participant has to call in at the scheduled date and time. The participant is prompted to enter the access code provided on the Notice of Dispute Resolution Hearing after which point they are prompted by the system to state their name.
Any form of recording of the hearing is prohibited. However, a party may make a written request to the RTB not less than 7 days before the hearing for an official transcript by an accredited court reporter. If granted permission, the requesting party is responsible to make all necessary arrangements with the court reporter and pay the associated costs.
At the beginning of the hearing, the arbitrator explains the general procedure and answers any relevant questions the parties may have. The participants are asked to identify all people who are present with them and anyone else who may join at a later point in time.
The arbitrator then considers any preliminary matters such as questions of jurisdiction, substituted service, etc. If the parties wish to submit evidence that has not been submitted within the prescribed deadlines, it is at this point that they should bring the matter to the attention of the arbitrator who, in turn, makes a decision with respect to its admissibility. It is also at this point in time that an applicant or a cross-applicant who wishes to amend their application, and has not done so within the prescribed deadlines, should bring the matter to the attention of the arbitrator. An arbitrator’s decision on preliminary matters may result in an adjournment of the hearing.
Once all preliminary matters are resolved, each party is given an opportunity to present evidence with respect to the claim(s). The hearing begins with the applicant’s evidence unless the arbitrator decides otherwise or when the respondent bears the onus of proof. The common law rules of evidence do not apply and an arbitrator may admit any evidence they consider to be necessary, appropriate and relevant to the hearing.
Witnesses may either call in at the beginning of the hearing or may be called at any other time as required. The arbitrator has the discretion to exclude witnesses from the hearing until called to provide evidence. In any event, witnesses should remain available throughout the duration of the hearing.
Once evidence has been provided by a participant, the arbitrator may allow the opposing party to respond to the evidence presented and/or cross-examine the party that has just provided evidence.
The Residential Tenancy Act provides arbitrators with broad powers to decide on the issues between the parties. All issues are determined on a balance of probabilities, meaning that the arbitrator decides whether it is more likely than not that the facts occurred as claimed. Except in specific circumstances, the onus of proof is on the person making the application.
An arbitrator may provide an oral decision at the end of the hearing. In any event, the RTB issues a written decision within 30 days after the hearing concludes and may include with it a written order.
Last revised: April 17, 2016
- Because of the often emotionally-charged nature of tenancy disputes, parties may be tempted to talk over each other or respond directly to each other’s accusations. As a general rule, you should resist the urge to interrupt the opposing party even if you vehemently disagree with what they are saying. Any inconsistencies or inaccuracies should be left for cross-examination or your reply, as permitted by the arbitrator. Also, all statements should be addressed to the arbitrator and not directed at the opposing party.
- At the start of the hearing, the arbitrator may inquire as to whether a friendly settlement of the dispute is possible. If you haven’t already explored this possibility, it may be wise to consider the terms on which you may be willing to settle the dispute instead of having the arbitrator proceed with the hearing and determine the outcome. Any settlement reached between the parties at the hearing is noted in the arbitrator’s order and is enforceable in court. Even if a settlement is reached prior to the hearing, you may wish to attend the hearing to inform the arbitrator of the terms of the settlement and to obtain an order in accordance with these terms. Settling a dispute is likely to significantly decrease the odds of either party applying to have the arbitrator’s decision subsequently reviewed.