In many provinces, the law that applies to landlords and tenants states that if someone breaches specific sections under that law, then they have committed an offence. For example, in Nova Scotia, section 23 of the Residential Tenancies Act states the following:
Any person who violates or fails to comply with any order, direction or other requirement of the Director or the Small Claims Court or contravenes any provision of this Act, or any landlord who takes action against a tenant because of any resort by that tenant to any governmental authority in respect of the residential premises or because a tenant attempts to enforce or secure his rights under this Act or the Rent Review Act, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable to a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.
How is an offence different than getting a court order? To get a court order, either the landlord or the tenant has to sue the other person. For example, let’s say that the landlord kept the security deposit to cover damages to the property, but the inspection reports were not completed. This is an offence under Alberta’s Residential Tenancies Act (section 46(6)). In order to get the amount back, the tenant must sue the landlord for return of the security deposit. If the tenant chose to make a complaint with Service Alberta, then there would be an investigation, and if there was an offence committed, then the landlord could be warned, fined, or made to appear in court. Service Alberta would not be going after the landlord to get the security deposit back for the tenant; they are only concerned with the offence.
A situation that is similar would be a car accident. Let’s say that I don’t stop at a stop sign and I hit a car who was going through the intersection. I damaged the other car, and the driver had a broken arm. The driver could sue me to pay to fix the car, and also for the financial damages that he suffered because he got hurt. So that is similar to when a tenant sues a landlord, because it is a person to person interaction. In addition, I didn’t stop at a stop sign, and that is a crime, so the police would investigate to determine if a crime had actually been committed, and lay charges if it had. The police are not concerned with trying to get me to pay for the repairs to other car. The role of the police is the same as the role of Service Alberta in an RTA offence.
Sometimes making a complaint will help you get what you want without having to invest time and money in suing the other side. In the example above, where the landlord kept the security deposit, if Service Alberta investigated and the landlord became aware that they were breaching the law, then the landlord might voluntarily return the security deposit to the tenant.
In Alberta, there is a tipsheet that lists the offences. It is free to make a complaint with Service Alberta and you can find out more about the process, along with the complaint form, on their website. If you are from another province, you can find the contact information for places that might be able to tell you more about offences on the chart below.