Many University of Saskatchewan students are first-time renters or renters with very little experience of the arbitration process, which can be confusing if difficulties arise.
Conflict in situations where there is an imbalance of power is an uncomfortable experience for most, and landlord-tenant interactions can be particularly painful. To help, the Sheaf sat down with Dale Beck, director of The Saskatchewan Office of Residential Tenancies, to give students information on how to handle these situations.
To start it off, your landlord has a legal obligation to provide habitable living conditions. The ORT has a priority stream for complaints that fall under this category. If your unit floods, or your heat goes out in the middle of winter and your landlord is refusing to address the issue, complaints will be handled within seven business days.
If you feel that your landlord is not respecting their legal obligations to you as their tenant, there is a great deal you can do to avoid moving towards arbitration.
“Commonly, one side is not happy with what the hearing officer has to say,” Beck said.
Even though one side may not be happy, it’s important to remember that these decisions are legally binding.
First, you should begin the conversation with your landlord about the issue — keep in mind, everything that you do should be documented in case you need to provide evidence at a hearing. This means, if you make a request for repairs, it should be done in writing, or you can follow up oral conversations with emails confirming what you discussed. Next, you can do a search in the ORT database online, where you can find over 400 rulings from 2006 to the present.
Often if something similar enough to your case has been ruled in the tenant’s favour in the past, presenting it to your landlord is enough to avoid a hearing. If this is not enough to settle your dispute, a complaint must be filed with the ORT and a hearing will be held.
Next we move onto the process of filing a formal complaint with the ORT. This begins with the gathering of evidence and then actually filing a complaint, to which a $50 administration fee is applied.
If you choose to use the testimony of a witness, they do not necessarily have to attend the hearing, as the ORT permits questioning over the telephone. Other important items of evidence include receipts and invoices for expenses caused by the issue and any photographs or videos. Beck insists on the importance of doing a walkthrough of your place with your landlord before you move in, documenting any and all issues that you can find in the unit.
Most landlords will not have lawyers present, but the ORT has the same reach as small claims courts — up to $30,000. As a student you will often qualify for help from Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City, which provides you with a current U of S law student who helps you navigate your case.
Once you have filed your complaint, you will be given a document detailing the location, date and time of the hearing, which you will then serve to your landlord. If there are any complaints in regards to this document, they should be dealt with within 40 business days.
On the day of your hearing, both you and your landlord will be given the opportunity to present evidence and testimony. Almost every case heard by the ORT will be based on a dispute of the facts and like a judge, your hearing officer will be the one who decides what is fact or fiction.
The hearing officer will then provide a written statement detailing the findings and the ruling of the hearing — if one side is not happy with the results, an appeal can be made.
Knowing your rights as a renter is an important part of living on your own and is the best way to avoid being taken advantage of.
For more information, head to the ORT’s website, and to access the database of past rulings, head to canlii.org/en/sk/skort.
Graphic: Paige Sutherland