Renters of Vancouver: “To this day, I still haven’t got a dime back”

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      “Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.

      “When I moved into my suite in East Van, it was obvious it needed some work. The place was a total dump. But I do renovations for a living, and I liked the location, so the landlord and I agreed to figure out an arrangement. That was where the trouble began.

      He wanted to do something with the kitchen and bathroom, which was fine. But it took me forever to renovate. When I started to pull things apart, it was disgusting. He was so cheap. Every material that has ever been used in the suite had been recycled. Everything was just covering up something else—I discovered the kitchen sink was on top of an old fireplace, for example, and he’d never bothered cleaning it up.

      I did a huge amount in the bathroom. I moved the bathtub and the sink, and tiled the shower. I then re-plumbed the entire suite because previously there were only falling-apart copper pipes. In the kitchen, I put in new cabinets and a granite countertop. I put a lot of work into it, because I wanted to make it my home, and for it to look nice. On top of that, I saved the landlord a load of money, because I wasn’t charging him for the labour at all. I just said that he should reimburse me for the materials, and we’d be good to go.

      By the time I’d finished, I’d spent about $3000. When I asked him where the money was, he told me—and wrote it into our contract—that he would pay me at the end of two years.

      When we were coming up to that 24 month deadline, I injured my foot. I severed the tendons right before I was scheduled to run pyrotechnics at a music festival, and I couldn’t work.

      At the same time, we had a city-sanctioned housing inspection coming up. I could see that the house was absolutely falling down, and that there was no way it would pass a city inspection. The suite is about 105 years old. The front stairs are all rotted. We have a gas stove with no hood fan over it. For the electricals, we only have 60 amps for the entire house—which means that my apartment is running off two 15 amp circuits. There were so many infractions, and the landlord refused to put any money into the property.

      I told him that I didn’t think it was fair to give him the full month’s rent. Firstly because I didn’t have the money because I wasn’t able to work, and secondly because I was convinced that I’d be kicked out of the house after the inspection, and I didn’t want to part with money I knew I wouldn’t get back. I told him where he was going to fail, and I said that if he did the amendments to bring the house up to code, then I would pay him. But I didn’t want to hand over cash and not have a place to live at the end of the month. And, given that he owed me about $3000, I thought that would be fine.

      I then left to work out of town for a couple weeks. The moment I departed, he posted a Ten-Day Eviction notice on my door. When I came back and saw it, it was too late to fight it because you have to respond within five days.

      I called the Tenancy Branch and explained the situation, and I said that I was going to pay the rent as soon as the house passed the inspection. But when the city officials came, it turned out that it was just an occupancy check to see how many people were living there, and we passed. I told the landlord that I didn’t have all the money to pay him the rent right at that time, but I gave him $400. Come September 1, a few days later, I paid him for that month’s rent plus the excess that I owed him for the month before, so I was totally paid up.

      Later that month, I still had that hearing date with the Residential Tenancy Branch over my unpaid rent. I didn’t want to waste everybody’s time—I assumed that because all the rent had now been paid, and because he owed me $3000, everything was fine. So I didn’t do the call.

      A few days after that, I got a notice through the Direct Request process, saying that I’d been evicted and that I had to leave by November. I called the landlord, and asked him what was going on—I’d paid him the rent. When he said that I hadn’t shown up to take the call for the hearing, I explained that I didn’t think I needed to because by then we were completely settled.

      For the next little while, I stayed in the suite. I paid him the money, and he dropped off a rent receipt with “Use and Occupancy” written underneath it. It was a little weird, but I didn’t know what it meant, and didn’t think too much of it. But a couple weeks later, I got a letter in the mail giving me another eviction date.

      When that day came, I still hadn’t heard anything from the landlord. I went to the Residential Tenancy Branch and said that I was all paid up. They said to fill out a form which said that the landlord had been accepting money from me. I paid the $50 filing fee, completed the paperwork, and left thinking everything was okay.

      On December 15, I saw a moving truck pull up in front of my house. I didn’t understand how it was possible—I had paid him December’s full rent and he’d given me a receipt. The bailiffs started loading my stuff into their truck, so I asked them to also put in my fridge and stove. The lead bailiff flipped through the paperwork, and he said that the landlord specifically told him that the fridge, stove, bathtub, and sink were his property and not to be removed—even though he’d never paid me back for them. I couldn’t believe it.

      The whole time he was just two steps ahead of me with his paperwork. The Residential Tenancy Branch didn’t seem interested in my situation, and wouldn’t reverse their decision. To this day, I still haven’t got a dime back from him for the renovations. Now I don’t know what to do.”

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