“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I’d gone to elementary school with a girl, and stayed in contact with her. Her mom owned two big homes on Main Street and was looking for someone to rent a suite. I told her that I was interested, because I figured that a friend’s mom would be a better landlady than a stranger. I was mistaken.
“I first moved in to a shoebox studio around the Terminal area. It was a little bit sketchy, and there were often people rummaging through garbage right outside my window. There were a few bars on one window, but not the other, so I asked if the landlady could put some up. She said yes—but it never happened. I was living there on my own, and whenever I needed to have the windows open in the summer because of the heat, I would be paranoid that someone would climb in.
“That contributed to me moving into a second suite in the same building—a slightly bigger shoebox studio. I continued to experience the same kind of attitude from the landlady. There were rats in the kitchen that lived in the fan hood over the oven. Because it was a basement suite that was largely below the ground, it was easy for them to keep crawling in. I had to try and fix it myself by boarding it up from the outside, but it was still really unhygienic. When I asked the landlady about it, I found out that she’d also lost a whole year’s worth of my cheques, as well as my lease.
“The worst thing, though, was the laundry. Originally there was one washer between four suites. She took it out and replaced it with coin-operated laundry, so we’d have to pay money that she would obviously keep. That was a bit of a shock to everyone—but it directly affected my room. The new machines were leaking, and I lived underneath them. The water would drip over the light and the electrical socket, and she didn’t address that issue for weeks.
“I then found out that a one-bedroom apartment had opened up in her other house further down Main Street. The landlady told me that she would transfer the damage deposit from the first two suites of hers that I lived in, so I wouldn’t have to pay any extra. The rent was really good and I couldn’t afford a similar-sized room anywhere else, so I took it.
“I stayed there for a couple of months before my boyfriend’s lease ended. We decided he should move in with me to save money. The landlady agreed, and said that she would not adjust the rent. We lived there for a full year until we made the choice to find a different place, not owned by her. I gave my notice to the landlady, and everything seemed great. She didn’t do move-in or move-out inspections, but on the day we left, she said that the suite looked fine.
“But when I asked for my original $300 deposit back, she said that she was going to use it for our last hydro bill. She told me that the price had gone up since my boyfriend moved in, and that she was going to retroactively use the money to cover the increased costs. It had always been part of our agreement that hydro was included in the rent, so it was ridiculous that she was trying to keep the money.
“I decided to go to the Residential Tenancy Branch to get my deposit back. She was in clear violation of the Act. Firstly, if a landlady doesn’t do inspections at the start and end of a tenancy, she forfeits the right to keep the damage deposit. Because there was not damage to the suite, she couldn’t keep any of the money, and given that more than 15 days had passed since I gave her my new address in writing and asked for the return of my deposit, she owed me double.
“It took eight months of her ignoring my letters and emails to get a response. At one point, she mailed me a cheque for about $40, which was what she thought was acceptable after taking off money for hydro. I didn’t cash it, and told her that I would see her at our hearing.
“When that day came, though, she didn’t even call in to our arbitration, despite the fact that I had mailed her all the documents that she needed to defend herself. I don’t know why she didn’t—maybe she just realized that there was no way that she could win, or that it wasn’t enough money for her to care. To this day I don’t understand why paying me back $300 would be such a big issue for a wealthy, multiple-home-owning individual.
“In the end, the Residential Tenancy Branch official said that I had done everything correctly, and that there was nothing the landlady could dispute. They awarded me $700: the $300 damage deposit, doubled, plus the $100 filing fee.
“After all that, she didn’t respond to any emails or mailed letters asking her to pay up. I had to look into how I could actually enforce the decision, and it would mean going through Small Claims Court. I really didn’t want to have to go through all that paperwork after already doing it for the Residential Tenancy Branch, but I just told her that I would be preparing the case. The next day, her accountant finally called me, and paid me the money.
“And then, inexplicably, months after all this had settled, she added my boyfriend and me on Instagram.”