“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I moved here from Brazil about a year and a half ago for school. In that time, I’ve lived in four different places.
“I can only work part-time, so my salary is $800. My budget for rent is $500—or $550 at best—so it’s been tough to find a good home. The first suite I found was in a house with a very traditional family, who were really religious. They lived upstairs with their two sons who were about 20, and I lived downstairs with two other roommates. It was very clean, and I think my mom was happy that I would be living with a family.
“It was okay at first, but I wasn’t allowed to have friends over, and I couldn’t have overnight guests. Initially I didn’t mind because I was so busy working and studying. But they had a set of very specific rules, and if I ever broke them, they would send me a really long email. I could live with that, but it upset me when one day I got a message from the family saying that my room was not as tidy as they expected. The mother had just walked into our unit unannounced without any notice, and went into my space—which is against the Residential Tenancy Act.
“Next, one person—it could have been one of the two sons, or either of my roommates—downloaded something illegally. We had a week of interviews with the family. It felt like I was in a police station in my own house. They showed us a bunch of papers which threatened a $1400 bill for the download—which, by the way, could never be enforced—and they were very aggressive. In the end, they couldn’t prove who it was, so they eventually dropped it.
“After that it got worse. I was just browsing Facebook, and there was an article about women’s sexual health. When I went to open it, I found that the website was blocked because of the word ‘vagina’. I went to check if they’d just prohibited that site in particular or others too, and every remotely sketchy word I put in was blocked. They’d put parental controls on my internet.
“They took the IP address of every computer in the house, and I’m pretty confident that they were monitoring what we were looking at. I did an experiment to check it out, and went to an obscure website to download a TV show episode. A day later, that website—and only that website—would be blocked. After six months, I just got so frustrated with the invasion of my privacy and being able to browse basic sites that I decided to move out.
“I wanted to do it the right way, so I gave them my one month’s notice to get my deposit back. I cleaned everything, and it was spotless. On the last day, they found a tiny scratch on the wall, and told me that they wouldn’t return my deposit. I freaked out, and eventually negotiated it so that they would take $80 for a normal wear-and-tear scratch. I knew I was being ripped off, but I just wanted to leave.
“At the next place I moved to, I never met the landlord. There was a live-in caretaker instead, who had fibromyalgia. He was in a lot of pain, and wanted us to help him. When he interviewed people for the rooms, it was centered around his condition—we felt he would only rent to people who agreed to help him with his disease. I didn’t mind, and I would buy his groceries or liquor. For the most part, I liked the other people in the house, although there was an alcoholic lady who was quite hard to deal with, and another who was a drug addict and would randomly message me some very weird stuff.
“It wasn’t all great, though. One time when I got home from work, I turned on my light and I saw about 10 cockroaches running away. The next day when I was using my hairdryer, I lifted it up to turn it on, and a roach fell out into my hair. I talked to the caretaker to get them sorted, which he did do—but it took some time.
“A month later, the alcoholic woman smashed up the house. Then the following week, the guy that had problems with drugs kept asking me to come over to his apartment, and telling me that he could hear everything that I did. I had been friends with a couple in a different suite who had been my coping mechanism, but after they moved out, I started feeling unsafe.
“After that, the house got bedbugs. The caretaker said that he would sort it out, and eventually got a fumigator who treated most of the rooms. He asked me if I wanted mine done too. I hadn’t had any problems with the bugs, so I asked the fumigator if he thought it was necessary. He said it wasn’t. I thought that you had to treat the whole house, but I listened to his opinion. The next day I realized that the bedbugs had just run from the rooms that were sprayed into mine. When I woke up I was covered in bites.
“I decided to move out, even though I couldn’t really afford it. Luckily, the place I live in now is way better. There are no bedbugs, no roaches, no crazy people, and the internet works. It took a year and a half to get here, but I think I’ve found a good home.”