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BARTER = trade by exchange of goods

The Landlord:

  • “I liked him (the Tenant) enough to rent my home to him, so I trusted him.”
  • “He (the Tenant) said he was handy and did not mind helping out.”
  • “According to the Tenancy Application he (the Tenant) was after all in the trade and self-employed.”
  • “He (the Tenant) seemed like a nice guy and needed a “break” in the rent to bounce back financially after a nasty divorce.”
  • It saved me from having to find someone to do the repair and besides, the Tenant was willing to do the work gradually, which suited my cash-flow shortage.

When Landlords plan renovations or repairs to their very valuable assets, not necessarily extensive or costly, most seem to do their due diligence to research, compare and qualify before retaining the suitable tradesperson/contractor. Yet, so many abandon that due diligence when their Tenants somehow persuade them to accept verbal terms and undertakings at face value.

With a professional contractor the cautious Landlord would enter into a written and signed contract that would contain components and provisions such as the names of the respective parties, the start and end date, description of obligations, value of work or materials, financial consideration, terms of completion and payment, termination of services, guarantee of workmanship, insurance and legal recourse in the event of dispute.

After a long day’s labour, and often working a six-day week, it takes an energetic, disciplined and motivated person to come home and spend down-time or family-time doing, perhaps, what he does all day. It is easy to develop an attitude of indifference toward fulfillment of promises, since the reward is not received in tangible currency, there is no formal deadline, no monitoring and no defined repercussion if the work is not done or completed.

Often the work and time involved were underestimated and the ability to do it, overestimated. The Tenant may find himself in a position where his family’s welfare is in jeopardy by being unable to fulfill the commitment and ultimately not paying the rent.

In a recent case that was brought in front of the Alberta Residential Tenancy Dispute Service, the validity of the fixed-term was called into question, since the Tenant argued that a month-to-month tenancy was implied because the value of the assigned renovations exceeded the value of the total rent that would have been due up until he end of the fixed term. In almost all dispute cases, the arguments become even more creative and more convoluted.

When there is dissatisfaction, dispute arises and quickly escalates to he-said-she-said accusations. The Landlord often is looked upon as taking advantage of or exploiting the Tenant. Even though some form of written agreement may exist between the parties, legal consideration will always be applied in the context of landlord/tenant rights and obligations stipulated under the Residential Tenancies Act, not Contract Law.

For the Landlord, not only is there a loss of rental revenue, but most often loss of materials and damage to the property, or deterioration of the property or materials due to incompleteness or neglect. To the detriment of the Landlord the possibility always exists that the Tenant may misuse intimate knowledge of the condition of the property to his own benefit and to serve his rights as a Tenant first.

Other than for the sake of convenience or compassion, there is no reason to blend Landlord-Tenant relationships with Landlord-Contractor relationships.

If, at any time during the tenancy and especially during the initial interview at showing the rental property, there is even the slightest hint in the language used by the Tenant that may be interpreted or left assumed condoning that the Tenant will do odd or small jobs, it is vital that a very direct reply is issued making it clear that it is the Landlord’s policy not to have tenants carry out maintenance or repairs typically done by qualified tradespersons.

The Tenant’s obligations as far as replacing light bulbs, furnace filters, draining outside taps in preparation for winter, knowing where shut-off valves and electrical switchboards are etc. must clearly be distinguished from maintenance or repairs not normally expected from a Tenant for example electrical, heating and ventilation, plumbing, roof or foundation, drywall or door and lock repairs.

Where the Tenant insists on taking some initiative in minor repairs, for example repairing the slide bar of a counter drawer, the Landlord should at the very least be made aware that it was done and it should be inspected.

In instances where the Tenant has been left to carry out repairs or renovations, the line for dealing with emergencies also often becomes blurred. In, for example, a situation where a sewer backs up or a furnace breaks down, the Tenant might report it to the Landlord, but the Landlord might assume that the Tenant is capable of dealing with it, or assigns it with the intention of reimbursing the Tenant. Beware! It is ultimately the responsibility of the Landlord to deal with such situations competently, timely and until they are resolved, regardless of the capabilities of the Tenant.

Desired upgrades or changes on the property by the Tenant, such as painting the walls a different colour or replacing existing light fixtures with preferred light fixtures, should be explicitly authorized in writing and the terms thoroughly detailed including as it relates to colour restoration or fixtures that must remain.

While a tenancy and property repairs or renovations are in motion and there is harmony, it is easy to dismiss these seemingly small or insignificant, sometimes growing verbal agreements as something that is understood equally by the parties. However, when conflict arises, the bottomless depths of bartering could not only swallow your harmonious relationship with your tenant, but will almost certainly swallow your time, your wallet and in extreme cases, potentially even the value of your asset.

Kim Kahts specializes in Alberta evictions and residential tenancy disputes. Follow her on Twitter: Kim Kahts LandlordRX @LandlordRX

Visit Associated Eviction Services for services, practical solutions and tips for Landlords on disputes, tenant eviction, enforcement and free samples of Alberta residential tenancy forms and notices for landlords.

Associated Eviction Services (AES) offers paralegal services to local and remote Alberta real estate investors, property managers, real estate agents representing investors and building managers. We specialize in residential tenancy dispute matters within Alberta jurisdiction.


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