Whitelaw Twining Wins Successful Appeal

The battle over jurisdiction to hear disputes between landlords and tenants

The Court’s jurisdiction vs. The Residential Tenancy Branch’s exclusive jurisdiction under the Residential Tenancy Act (“RTA”)

The Canadian Litigation Counsel ’s (The Harmonie Group's sister network) British Columbia member firm Whitelaw Twining was successful before the Court of Appeals in a battle that involved whether the Court could assert jurisdiction over a dispute between a tenant and his landlords, or if the exclusive jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancy Branch prevailed. (CLC is The Harmonie Group’s sister network in Canada) The court released its decision in Janus v. The Central Park Citizen Society in May. While the decision ultimately turned on whether the running of the limitation period under the former Limitation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 266 (the “Former Limitation Act”) was postponed, the decision will likely have far reaching effects on how the Residential Tenancy Branch and the Small Claims Court deal with landlord tenant disputes.  

This case involves a fire that took place on April 16, 2012, in an apartment building in which the Plaintiff was a tenant. The Plaintiff alleged that his landlord was negligent in its failure to maintain the building, such as having inadequate ventilation and fire detection equipment, resulting in personal injuries and loss of property. The Plaintiff initially brought a claim in Small Claims Court, where it was dismissed on the basis that the claim fell within the jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancy Act (the "RTA") and, therefore, in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancy Branch. The Plaintiff did not appeal that decision. The Plaintiff then proceeded to the Residential Tenancy Branch, where his claim was dismissed for being out of time pursuant to the RTA. The Plaintiff did not seek review of that decision. The Plaintiff was subsequently diagnosed with cancer and started a new action in the Supreme Court of British Columbia about three months later on December 11, 2015, which was over 3.5 years after the fire.
The landlord applied to have the Plaintiff’s claim dismissed on multiple grounds, including that it was statute barred by virtue of the limitation period set out under the RTA or the Former Limitation Act. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss the Plaintiff’s claim turned on it holding that the RTA did not apply, and there was no basis on the facts of the case to postpone the running of the limitation period under the Former Limitation Act. As such, the Plaintiff’s claim was statute barred as of two years after the fire. 

While the Court of Appeal relied upon well-established law with respect to the question of the postponement of the limitation period, the Court of Appeal’s treatment of whether the RTA applied is likely to have more significant impact going forward. The Court of Appeal acknowledged that residential tenancy disputes involve rights and obligations under the RTA, which include a landlord’s obligation to maintain residential property in a state of repair that complies with safety standards required by law (s.32). However, while this case involves allegations of failing to maintain the fire safety of the building, the Court of Appeal held it was not a "RTA Dispute" because the Plaintiff’s claim did not arise solely by virtue of the rights and obligations under the RTA. Instead, the Plaintiff’s claim was based on the Occupier’s Liability Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 337, and alternatively based on negligence.

The Court of Appeal’s decision limits what types of claims will be considered to be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancy Branch. That is, the decision strictly limits "RTA Disputes" to claims that derive their legal basis solely from the RTA. We anticipate that the outcome of this decision will be that the Small Claims Court will retain jurisdiction over more claims, whereas it previously treated its jurisdiction between landlords and tenants as quite limited. While Small Claims Court has the same monetary jurisdiction as the Residential Tenancy Branch, we anticipate that the adjudication of claims in Small Claims Court will result in more costly litigation and higher awards.

To view the decision, click here .