By Emily Zarychta, Articling Student

The Residential Tenancy Act (the RTA) is a source of law that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords in British Columbia. While the RTA seeks to balance the rights of landlords and tenants, it provides a benefit to tenants which would not otherwise exist. The RTA applies to all tenancies in British Columbia unless the living accommodation is exempt under the RTA.

Is non-profit housing exempt from the RTA?

Non-profit housing may or may not be exempt from the RTA. Whether non-profit housing is exempt from the RTA depends on a few factors. This leads to confusion for tenants and non-profit housing providers alike. Many non-profit housing providers may not be aware that the RTA applies to a living accommodation they provide or manage, or simply fail to apply it appropriately. However, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Tenants are entitled to all housing rights set out in the RTA unless the non-profit housing provider falls under an exemption outlined in the RTA. It is crucial that non-profit housing providers correctly determine whether the RTA applies to the living accommodation before entering into agreements with tenants. However, they do not always do so.

Transitional housing is exempt – but is your housing truly transitional?

Transitional housing is not covered by the RTA. But beware – just because housing is called “transitional” by a housing provider, does not mean it meets the legal definitions of “transitional housing” under residential tenancy laws. Transitional housing is defined by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) policy guideline as “a next step towards independent living.” An individual in transitional housing may be moving from homelessness, an emergency shelter, a health or correctional facility or from an unsafe housing situation. Transitional housing is intended to include at least a general plan as to how the person living in this type of housing will transition to a more permanent living accommodation.[1] According to the Residential Tenancy Regulation, a living accommodation is transitional housing if it meets the following three criteria:

  1. The non-profit housing is provided on a temporary basis;
  2. The non-profit housing provider receives funding from a government source (municipal, provincial or federal) for the purpose of providing that accommodation; and
  3. The non-profit housing provider offers programs intended to assist tenants to become better able to live independently. [2]

A living accommodation needs to meet all three criteria to be considered transitional housing. If it does not, it will not be considered transitional housing and the RTA will likely apply. For example, an accommodation will likely not be transitional housing if a tenant has lived in a rental unit for more than 2 years with no specified end date to the tenancy and receives some supports, but has not been offered any programs intended to assist them to become better able to live independently.

Supportive housing is protected under the RTA

Unlike transitional housing, the RTA applies to supportive housing. Supportive housing is defined in the RTB policy guideline as “long-term or permanent living accommodation for individuals who need support services to live independently.”[3] Similar to the example above, if a non-profit housing provider provides some supports to tenants, but is not temporary, and/or not funded to provide transitional housing, it is more likely supportive housing and covered by the RTA.

I signed a program agreement with my non-profit housing provider. Is my tenancy exempt?

Signing a program agreement does not automatically exempt a living accommodation from the RTA, even if the program agreement includes a term that says RTA does not apply. Landlords and tenants cannot contract out of the RTA.[4] This means that you cannot legally agree that the RTA does not apply to your living accommodation.

The question of whether a living accommodation is exempt from the RTA is a legal question that is determined and regulated by the law. In other words, a living accommodation is not exempt from the RTA simply because the non-profit housing provider says so.

What if I do not know whether the RTA applies to my living accommodation?

If you are unsure whether your living accommodation falls under the RTA or is exempt, you can file an application for dispute resolution with the RTB to get an answer. An RTB arbitrator will decide whether the living accommodation is or is not exempt from the RTA. If the RTB arbitrator finds that the RTA does apply to your living accommodation, the non-profit housing provider will be bound by that decision.

I live in non-profit housing. Can my non-profit housing provider restrict my guests?

If you have confirmed that the RTA does not apply to your living accommodation, the non-profit housing provider may be able to restrict your guests. However, if the RTA does apply to your living accommodation, your non-profit housing provider cannot unreasonably restrict your guests.

Under the RTA, tenants have the right to access the rental property, and they also have the right to permit another person on to the rental property.[5] A landlord must not ‘unreasonably restrict’ access to the rental property by the tenant or a guest of the tenant. This means that a landlord must not:

  • prevent a tenant from having guests under reasonable circumstances;
  • impose restrictions on guests; or
  • require or accept any extra charge for daytime visits or overnight accommodation of guests.[6]

The BC Supreme Court has determined that general, building-wide blanket guest restrictions are unlawful.[7] The Court found that it would be wrong in principle to allow landlords to make their own policies that provided fewer protections to tenants than those under the RTA, even if the policies were well-intentioned. If the RTA meant to allow landlords to make their own policies, it would say so – but it doesn’t. The RTA is meant to protect tenants and their guests from unreasonable interference by landlords.

In another case on the issue of guest restrictions in the BC Supreme Court,[8] a non-profit housing provider implemented a guest policy with the following restrictions: visiting hours were restricted between 8:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., no one under the age of 19 was permitted in the building, guests needed to present a valid form of acceptable identification and residents had to sign their guests in at the front desk. The BC Supreme Court confirmed the findings in the earlier case and determined the restrictive guest policy was unlawful.

More importantly, the BC Supreme Court said that the housing provider did not provide “any justification of why tenants who are being given a social benefit of below market housing, in an effort to try and stabilize their living situation, ought to be given less legal rights than tenants paying market rates in a residential building operated by a commercial entity.”

Although a non-profit housing provider can restrict guests in some situations, they must have a reasonable basis for doing so. For example, a non-profit housing provider can restrict a tenant’s guest if that guest damaged property in the common area of the building or if they harassed other tenants in the building. However, a non-profit housing provider cannot arbitrarily impose visiting hours or any other restrictions on all tenants living in the building. Even during the COVID pandemic, non-profit housing providers are not allowed to restrict guests from visiting tenants. For more information, please see our post “Unlawful Guest Restrictions – Tenant’s Rights during COVID-19”.


All tenants deserve respect, safety, peace, and the full protection of the law, including tenants in non-profit, subsidized housing. Non-profit housing providers cannot assume that they fall under the exemption for “transitional housing” without making a full inquiry of whether they meet the criteria. Non-profit housing providers must be mindful of their obligations under the RTA, particularly regarding guests.

[1] Residential Tenancy Branch Policy Guideline 46 “Emergency Shelters, Transitional Housing, Supportive Housing.”
[2] S 1(2) of the Residential Tenancy Regulation
[3] Residential Tenancy Branch Policy Guideline 46 “Emergency Shelters, Transitional Housing, Supportive Housing.”
[4] Residential Tenancy Act [SBC 2002] C 78 (“RTA”) at s. 5.
[5] RTA, at s. 30(1)
[6] RTA, at s. 9(1), 9(2)
[7] Atira Property Management v. Richardson, 2015 BCSC 751 at para 39.
[8] PHS Community Services Society v Swait, 2018 BCSC 824 at para 56.

Photo by Bjoern Taubitz on Unsplash