The B.C. government is doubling the fees tenants and landlords will have to pay to have a dispute resolved by the Residential Tenancy Branch.

B.C. NDP housing critic David Eby said one of his staffers recently noticed the government quietly increased the tenancy dispute fee from $50 dollars to $100 with an order in council last month. Appeals will now cost $50 instead of $25.

Eby says the fee hike amounts to another hidden tax increase.

"When you add it together with the MSP premium increase, with the Hydro rate increases, with ICBC increase, they really start to add up for families."

While the order in council says the increase is effective Jan. 1, a spokesperson for the the Residential Tenancy Branch said they will actually go up Jan. 8.

Tenants hit hardest

While fee hike applies to both tenants and landlords equally, Eby says tenants will be hit the hardest.

"It's just government's way of hiding taxes and fee increases. This money is going to go directly into general revenue and it comes at the expense of tenants who are already so terribly stretched in this province," he said.

But the government points outs the fees will continue to be waived for low-income people and approximately one-fifth of all applicants will not pay any application fee at all.

Nevertheless Eby questions why renters are being asked to pay more for a service when the government recently moved to protect the owners of $1.2-million-homes from property tax increases.

"To double these fees in the same period of time that the province gave a property tax break to people who are buying $1.2 million homes shows that the priorities of this government are completely screwed up," he said.

The government says it's the first fee change since 1998 and the extra revenue will be used to hire new new arbitrators and reduce wait times for urgent applications.

They also point out that among the changes is an increase to the cost for landlords to apply to increase rent beyond the standard allowable amount.

"This previously cost $200 plus $5 per rental unit or site, but will now cost $300 plus $10 per rental unit or site, up to a maximum of $600," said a statement released by the branch.

The Residential Tenancy Branch has received more than 22,000 dispute applications in the past two years, meaning the revenue from the fees could jump from $550,000 to $1.1 million per year.

The dispute resolution process is used to settle disagreement between landlords and tenants.

Most hearings are conducted over the phone and a final decision, which can require the losing party to pay any fees of the winning party, is mailed out to the parties involved.

With files from Wanyee Li