“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“In the mid ‘90s, I had a little son, and he had to go to school. So I found a two bedroom apartment in Kits, right across from the Henry Hudson elementary. It was a beat-up, run-down building, but it was convenient.
The property was won in a high-stakes poker game in Hong Kong a while ago, and it’s still owned by the family. I got along quite well with the son who was looking after the building, and there was an unspoken deal that if something broke, I would fix it, and he would leave us alone if we also didn't bother him.
That was fine until he had a heart attack, and his sister took over. She had a different management approach.
The problems started when the faucets began to leak. I would phone and tell her about the issue, and she would send over somebody who couldn’t speak English and turned up with just a screwdriver and a hammer. They would take a look, and never come back. Meanwhile the faucet kept leaking. This went on and on, and it got to the point where the backdoor started binding because water was running over the frame.
The landlord did nothing until the price of rents started rising. Part of the reason that I don’t really want to slag the original owner is that although I lived there for 17 years, he only raised the rent twice. Sure, he wasn’t fixing or updating the building, but it came to the point that I was paying $975 for a two-bed apartment in Kitsilano, which was a deal. And all of a sudden, the market rate for that kind of place was up to $1780.
At the end of October, I got an eviction notice because the landlord wanted to take over the apartment. When I asked why she was doing it, she said that she wanted to raise the rent by hundreds of dollars. I told her, ‘Well, you can’t do that.’ So I went to the Residential Tenancy Branch with my file and pictures.
The landlord said that her aim was to kick me out to do a quick renovation, and bring the property up to market rate. The Residential Tenancy Branch official who was hearing the evidence followed the rules, and told her that she couldn’t throw the two of us out for that.
So my son and I went on holiday, and when we came back at the beginning of February, we found another eviction notice for the same thing. I filed again at the Tenancy Branch—but this time, she’d hired a ringer. When we went into the meeting, she was sitting next to a really high-profile real estate developer, who was on her side.
The tone of the meeting was completely different from before. While the first guy at the Residential Tenancy Branch had been really holding her to task, this official was saying ‘Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ to the developer. The tone of the conversation was that they knew each other. It became pretty clear early on that the decision was made, regardless of what I had to say.
Even before we got to the end of it, the Residential Tenancy Branch official said, ‘You’d better start packing’.
They said that I could appeal to the Supreme Court. But we’re talking about a hugely onerous process that would involve taking months to prepare the case, thousands of dollars to hire a representative, and in the meantime I’m trying to pack my stuff up after living there for 17 years, and finding a place to live within three weeks.
I was lucky that it was still early enough in the game that I was able to find a place. But I moved from a two bedroom apartment for $975 a month, to basically a bachelor suite for the same amount of money with my son. Now both of us live in that tiny condo.
When we moved, I figured, well, we can just wait it out until the market drops. But it just keeps going and going.”