Renters of Vancouver: “The sewage overflowed into my suite”

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

      “I lived with my boyfriend of seven years in Coquitlam. We broke up, and after that I decided that I wanted to be closer to my friends, so I moved to Vancouver with my dog, Rocco. Owning a pet made finding a place nearly impossible.

      I subletted my friend’s room while she was in Berlin for a month, and threw myself into looking for an apartment. For the four weeks I was searching I would send out at least five emails a day, but I was only able to get one viewing—a 400 square foot basement suite, which was on the market for $1175.

      When I went inside, the place was horrible. There was a hole in the bathroom floor right in front of the toilet. It was really nasty looking. But it was the only unit available anywhere near my budget. I needed somewhere to go, so I signed the one-year contract I was offered.

      On December 19, the sewage from the house started overflowing into my suite. I couldn’t live there, especially with my dog, so I had to temporarily move out. The woman who managed the building was out of town for the holidays, and refused to do anything about it until she got back. The suite sat for two weeks with sewage congealing in it, until I could move back in on December 30. I would’ve been okay with that time frame if she had hired contractors to do renovations, but for days it literally sat with sewage everywhere, just absorbing into my bathroom’s wood flooring.

      I moved back in for a few weeks after everything had been cleared—and then at the end of January, it happened again. There was another sewage overflow, but this time it was even worse. The pipes burst, and there was a lot of additional flooding all over the suite. And then, to make matters worse, there was another dump of sewage into my home the next month. Since the middle of December, I’ve been dealing with this on and off.

      The water has soaked through the bottom of my mattress. I’ve been able to put it up on paint cans so it can air out correctly, so I’m hoping that it doesn’t get mould. But once I move out of the apartment I’m going to have to get rid of it, which is another expense I wasn’t anticipating. I already work 60 hours a week with two jobs to try and cover all the rent and bills. It’s rough.

      Throughout all of this, I told the house manager how frustrated I was. She wanted me to send her pictures of the damage, and when I messaged them, she said that it wasn’t a good representation of what was going on. She then told me that if I wanted her to solve the issue I needed to send better pictures. I said that she should come over and view the place, so we could go over it together and talk through exactly what was going on. We set a date and time, and she never showed up.

      I then found out that she wasn’t the landlord at all, but was working for the guy who owns the house, who is the CEO of a really big company. She’s his assistant. I don’t think she gets paid to deal with his properties, so it doesn’t matter to her how bad the living conditions are. But when I called the actual landlord to tell him that he needed to rip up all the porous material that the sewage had touched, he said ‘I am of no help to you.’ He told me that the house manager dealt with this property, so he wouldn’t do anything. He didn’t care what was happening to his suite.

      I’ve just had some good news, though. The basement suite is split into two different units, and the girl next to me also deals with similar sewage, flooding, and leaks. She actually found out today that both our suites are illegal. They don’t follow the building codes of Vancouver, and they are not registered with the Province—so no one knows that there are people living down there.

      Now that she’s discovered this, I hope I don't have to go through all the hassle of trying to persuade the landlord to end the tenancy. My neighbour said that she has just received a notice from the city saying that it’s okay to move out without written agreement from both parties, because the suite is illegal. I'm not sure if it's true, because I can’t see it anywhere in the tenancy act, but I hope it is. I’ll have to talk to her in detail. I’ve felt so trapped for so long in this horrible situation, because I signed on to a one year lease. I thought there was no way out. I’ll take any opportunity to go.

      Although I’m super excited to leave, though, I’m also worried about finding a new place. I’m now in the same situation as I was at the start—and I’m not sure I will have a better experience this time around.”

      Got a story to share? Tweet Kate Wilson here, or email k_wilson@straight.com 

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