The Ombudsperson is an independent office of the BC legislature, and they are responsible for making sure that government bodies treat people fairly. The Ombudsperson can conduct an independent investigation and, in some cases, can recommend that the government body fix a problem or improve its practices and procedures so that people do not experience the same unfair treatment in the future.
British Columbia’s Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) is a government body that the Ombudsperson can investigate. Every year, the RTB makes thousands of decisions that affect the safety and security of landlords and tenants. In making these decisions, the RTB has a duty to treat its participants fairly. It must not act arbitrarily or oppressively; it cannot issue decisions based on mistakes of fact or law; and it must provide adequate and appropriate reasons for its decisions.
Situations where the Ombudsperson will not investigate
However, the Ombudsperson cannot investigate your case if you simply disagree with the outcome. If the RTB uses a fair process to reach a reasoned decision that was not in your favour, the Ombudsperson cannot recommend that the RTB change its decision. To illustrate, the following are examples of situations where a complaint will not be successful:
- Both you and the other party had a chance to provide evidence, but the arbitrator believed the other side’s version of events.
- An RTB staff member gave you information that was not what you wanted to hear.
- Your arbitrator did not consider some of your evidence, but you failed to submit it.
- During the hearing, the arbitrator asked you to wait your turn to speak.
- The arbitrator gave reasons explaining her decision, but you disagree with them.
Because the Ombudsperson is restricted to investigating public bodies, you cannot file a complaint alleging unfairness on the part of your private landlord.
How do I know if I was not treated fairly?
Problems with fairness can arise before, during, and after your hearing before the RTB. At a basic level, fairness requires that all parties are given an opportunity to hear the case against them and to respond to that case. In practice, this means that parties are treated fairly when:
- Information given to parties about the process is clear, accurate and accessible;
- Parties to a dispute have a chance to give information and evidence to support their position and to know and respond to the information given by the other side;
- Decisions are made by unbiased and impartial decision-makers;
- The parties’ reasonable expectations regarding the procedure that will be followed in making decisions are met;
- Decisions are made within a reasonable time;
- Clear and adequate reasons for the decisions are given; and
- The unsuccessful party is informed of any appeal or review procedures available.
Attempting to resolve the complaint directly before complaining to the Ombudsperson
You should try to resolve your complaint yourself before complaining to the Ombudsperson. Depending on your situation, you might complain directly to the RTB to try to resolve the matter. Complaints to the RTB may help identify areas where it needs to improve its services and procedures. For example, complaints about the clarity and accuracy of the factsheets published by the RTB have led to corrections or clarifications to information in those documents. In your complaint, clearly and concisely set out what you found to be unfair. You can complain to the RTB in writing either via email or mail:
RTB email: HSRTO@gov.bc.ca
RTB mail: PO Box 9844 Stn Prov Govt Victoria BC V8W 9T2
How to make a complaint
You can make a complaint by filling in this form on the BC Ombudsperson website or by completing this kit on the CLAS website that is designed to make filing Ombudsperson complaints really easy and then sending it in. You can also call the Ombudsperson’s office at 1-800-567-3247.
Please note that filing an Ombudsperson complaint is not a substitute for judicial review and does not stop your deadline for judicial review. If you want to keep the option of judicial review open, you are still responsible for meeting the deadline for filing a judicial review.