Before disputes arise, both landlords and tenants should know their responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). Most problems occur when either the tenant or landlord have not fulfilled their responsibilities under the RTA. For more details and statutory references, see the RTA Handbook.
Below are common problems that can occur between a tenant and landlord.
Starting a tenancy
The place is not ready
If the rental premises are not ready for the tenant to occupy at the beginning of the tenancy, the tenant may:
- notify the landlord that they do not want to proceed with the tenancy agreement
- apply to the Court of King’s Bench to have the landlord ordered to live up to the tenancy agreement
- pursue the landlord for an abatement of rent remedy through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) or court
Written versus verbal rental agreements
A rental agreement can be in writing, spoken or even be implied from the situation.
- A written agreement includes a signed rental agreement (also called a lease).
- A verbal agreement is a contract between the landlord and the tenant that is not in writing.
- An implied agreement is a contract that is not agreed to verbally or in writing by the landlord and tenant, but that can be inferred from the way they have conducted themselves.
All agreements can be considered valid. However, it is recommended to have a written agreement so the terms of the tenancy are clear and documented.
For more information about writing an agreement, see Starting a tenancy.
- Residential Tenancies Act - Section 1 (1)(m)
Subletting a rental unit
A tenant cannot sublease or assign the rental premises to someone else without the landlord’s written consent. A landlord may not refuse permission without reasonable grounds and must give the tenant their reasons in writing within 14 days after receiving the request.
If the landlord does not answer the request within 14 days, the tenant may assume that the landlord agrees to the sublease or assignment.
A landlord may not charge a fee for giving consent to sublease.
A tenant who subleases or assigns the rental premises may or may not be responsible for the balance of the residential tenancy agreement, and may choose to seek legal advice.
- Residential Tenancies Act - Section 22 (6)
At the beginning of a tenancy, the tenant and landlord should agree on who is allowed to live in the residential rental premises. The names of all tenants should be listed in the tenancy agreement.
If someone who is not listed on the tenancy agreement is living in the residential rental premises, the landlord has the right to give the tenant notice of no less than 14-days that the unauthorized occupant(s) must leave.
If the tenant has moved out, the landlord can give the unauthorized occupant at least 48 hours notice.
- Residential Tenancies Act - Section 36
During a tenancy
It is the landlord’s responsibility to take action if something is causing problems for their tenants, including excessive noise (other than activity in the normal course of everyday living).
- RTA Handbook – Definitions: “Peaceful Enjoyment”
The residential tenancy agreement should state what the landlord and what the tenant are responsible for repairing.
The landlord is usually responsible for the:
- building structure (including windows, doors, walls, roof, ceilings, and floors)
- heating and air conditioning (if there is any)
- appliances provided by the landlord
If a landlord ignores a tenant’s request for repairs, the tenant may apply to the RTDRS or court to:
- recover damages
- have the rent reduced to make up for any benefits the tenant has lost because the landlord did not carry out the landlord's obligations
- compensate for the cost of performing the landlord's obligations
- end the tenancy
A tenant cannot withhold rent because they believe the landlord is not meeting their obligations. A landlord cannot evict a tenant for exercising their rights under the RTA or the Public Health Act.
- RTA Handbook – Definitions: “Repair”
Sublease or assignment
Tenants must get the written permission of landlords to sublet or assign the residential premises to another party. The landlord may not refuse permission without reasonable grounds. If the landlord decides against the sublease or assignment, the landlord must give the tenant a written reason within 14 days after receiving the request. If the landlord does not answer the request within 14 days, the tenant may assume that the landlord agrees to the sublease or assignment.
- RTA Handbook – Tenant’s obligations
Sub-meters for rental units
If tenants have a dispute with their landlord about their sub-meter bill, tenants should first review their sub-meter contract and then talk to their landlord or sub-meter company. Minor problems can often be easily solved.
If the issue is not resolved, tenants can call the Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) toll free at 310-4822. The UCA can explain how sub-meters work and how sub-meter bills are calculated.
Tenants can also apply to the courts or Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) for a civil remedy.
Landlords cannot increase the rent payable by a tenant under a fixed term or periodic tenancy agreement until a minimum of one year (365 days) has passed since the last rent increase or since the start of the tenancy, whichever is later.
The RTA does not place a limit on the amount by which the landlord may raise the rent, although the common law does not allow a landlord to effectively evict by way of an unfairly large rent increase
If the landlord wants to increase the rent, the landlord’s notice to the tenant must be in writing and include all of the following:
- the date
- the effective date of the increase
- the landlord's signature
This notice is required for a periodic tenancy only.
The amount of notice required depends on the type of tenancy:
- 12 full tenancy weeks for a week-to-week periodic tenancy
- 3 full tenancy months for a month-to-month periodic tenancy
- 90 days for any other periodic tenancy
If a dispute arises between a landlord and tenant, they should try to resolve it before filing a complaint or applying for dispute resolution. See Resolving disputes for more information.
Substantial breach - tenant
If a tenant commits a substantial breach, the landlord can apply to the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) or Court to end the tenancy, or give the tenant at least 14-days’ notice to end the tenancy.
A tenant must be given the notice at least 14 clear days before the tenancy is to end. This means the day the notice is given and the day the tenancy ends do not count as part of the 14 days.
Substantial breach - landlord
Tenants can give at least 14-days’ notice to end a tenancy if they believe that the landlord has committed a substantial breach.
The notice is void if the landlord objects in writing within 7 days of receiving the tenant’s notice, as long as the order has been complied with or stayed.
A notice, order or document must be served personally or by registered mail.
For notices served by registered mail:
- a tenant’s address is the address of the residential premises rented by the tenant, and
- a landlord’s address is the address at which rent is payable or the address in the notice of landlord served
If a landlord is unable to serve a tenant because the tenant is absent or evading service, the landlord may serve the notice:
- on any adult person who apparently resides with the tenant, or
- by posting the notice, order or document in a visible place on some part of the premises
- Residential Tenancies Act - Section 57
Locks and security devices
Neither the landlord nor tenant can be locked out of the residential rental premises. If the landlord adds or changes locks, a new key must be given to the tenant right away. If a tenant wants to add or change locks to increase security, they may do so with the permission of the landlord. The tenant must give the landlord a new key as soon as the change is made.
Without the landlord’s permission, tenants may only add locks that can be used from the inside, such as chain locks.
If adding a lock makes holes in the door or frame, the tenant must leave the lock in place when moving out or repair the damage if the lock is removed.
If someone who is not listed on the tenancy agreement is living in the residential rental premises, the landlord has the right to give that person at least 14-days notice to leave. If the tenant has moved out, the landlord can give the unauthorized occupant at least 48 hours notice.
- RTA Handbook – Sections 33 to 36
Assaults or threats
A landlord can give the tenant at least a 24-hour notice to end the tenancy if the tenant:
- assaults or threatens to assault a landlord
- assaults or threatens to assault another tenant
- does significant damage to the residential premises
The 24-hour notice must:
- be in writing
- give the address of the residential premises
- be signed by the landlord or agent
- state the reason for eviction, and
- state the time and date the tenancy ends
The landlord can also apply to the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS).
Late service of notice
If a notice is served late, it will be effective at a later date.
A late notice means the tenancy will end on the last day of the next complete tenancy week.
A late notice means the tenancy will end on the last day of the next complete tenancy month.
For example, a tenant has a monthly tenancy that lasts from the first day of the month to the last day of the month. If the tenant gives notice on June 2 to end a monthly tenancy on June 30, the tenancy will instead end on July 31.
A late notice by tenant means the tenancy will end 60 days from the date on which the notice is served.
A late notice by a landlord means the tenancy will end 90 days from the date on which the notice is served.
Ending a tenancy
Ending tenancies due to domestic violence
Victims of domestic violence can end a tenancy early and without financial penalty.
This legislation applies in cases where, if the tenancy continues:
- the tenant's safety is at risk
- a dependant child's safety is at risk
- a protected adult's safety is at risk
For more information, see Safer Spaces certificate to end tenancy.
Residential Tenancies Act – Part 4.1
File a complaint or apply to the RTDRS
A tenant who believes their landlord has committed an RTA offence can contact the Service Alberta Contact Centre to inquire about an investigation.
Landlords and tenants involved in a dispute can apply to the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) to help resolve their dispute.
Before filing a complaint or applying for dispute resolution, you should first try to resolve disputes on your own.
Tenant does not leave
If a tenant has been given a 24-hour notice but does not move out, the landlord has 10 days after the tenancy ends to apply to the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) or Court for an order that confirms the tenancy will end.
If the landlord does not apply to court within 10 days, the notice is void and the tenancy hasn’t ended.
- Residential Tenancies Act – Section 30 (3)
Security deposit not returned
If the tenant does not receive either the security deposit, a statement of account or an estimated statement of account within the 10 days after they leave, the tenant should immediately write to the landlord (and keep a copy), requesting the security deposit and a statement of account.
A tenant may proceed through the courts or RTDRS to get the security deposit back if:
- they did not get anything from the landlord after requesting it
- a landlord deducts amounts from the security deposit that were not specified in the residential tenancy agreement
- a landlord deducts amounts from the security deposit that were for normal wear and tear
- the requirements for inspection reports were not complied with
A landlord can also proceed through the courts or Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) for remedy.
Return conditions not met (security deposit)
If the tenant does not meet the conditions for returning a security deposit, the landlord has the right to keep part or all of the security deposit to cover these costs. If the costs exceed the security deposit, the landlord can take legal action to claim for the money owing.
If the tenant disagrees with deductions made from the security deposit, they may apply to the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) or court for its return.
Belongings left behind
Sometimes a tenant moves out or abandons the rental premises, but leaves belongings behind.
A landlord has the immediate right to dispose of the goods if the landlord believes they are worth less than $2,000, or if the value of the goods will depreciate substantially in storage (for example, the goods will spoil). If the goods are worth $2,000 or more, the landlord must store them for 30 days.
A tenant can reclaim their possessions by paying the landlord for the moving and storage costs. Once the tenant has paid these costs, the landlord must then return the tenant’s possessions. If the tenant does not claim the goods within 30 days, the landlord can sell the goods by public auction or by private sale with the approval of the court.