VANCOUVER -- Renting in British Columbia's major cities is notoriously difficult. Vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria hover around one per cent, and average rents are among Canada's most expensive.

New security deposit rules announced by the provincial government Friday won't change any of that, but they will make life a bit easier for tenants trying to recover funds from stubborn landlords.

The new process will allow renters to submit an application to the Residential Tenancy Branch if their landlord does not return an uncontested security or pet deposit within 15 days of the end of a rental agreement.

If approved, the renter will receive an order for the return of the deposit that they can serve to the landlord or take to provincial small claims court.

Under the old process, renters had to apply for a dispute resolution hearing with the RTB before they could get such an order.

In a news release, the provincial government said the new process is similar to one that exists for landlords trying to recover unpaid rent or utilities from tenants.

David Hutniak, chief executive officer for LandlordBC, spoke favourably of the new process in the government's release.

"The use of a direct request for the return of security deposits is a constructive step to improve the efficiency of the process for both tenants and landlords," he said. "Landlords claiming to retain part or all of the deposits to recoup the cost of damages to their rental suites will continue to have access to a participatory hearing, which ensures that they will be able to state their case to an arbitrator. Overall, we expect this new process to work well."

Hutniak's counterpart at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, a tenants' rights group, also offered a positive response.

"We regularly hear from tenants whose landlords refuse to return deposits without justification, knowing that the time and hassle of the standard dispute-resolution process will lead many to simply give up," said Andrew Sakamoto, the centre's executive director, in the province's release. "TRAC hopes this change will both enable tenants to better stand up for their rights and discourage unscrupulous landlords from illegally retaining deposits."

Renters looking to take advantage of the new rules can do so in person at the RTB office in Burnaby or at any Service BC location. The process will also be available online beginning on Feb. 18.

The changes are part of the provincial government's response to recommendations from its Rental Housing Task Force, which issued its final report in December 2018.