“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I’ve been living in a property in East Van for eight and a half years. The landlord when I moved in was fantastic. I was a single dad with a seven-year-old son. Along with a person who was recently forced to leave a very bad relationship, and a couple with a three-month-old child, we formed a really great community together. Now, the landlord has to sell the property, and the new owners have chosen to evict me.
“For a period of seven years, the landlord didn’t raise the rent once. Last year he had to, and it was really hard for him. Through his business, he had been audited by the CRA. They said he was perhaps trying to keep his income at a lower tax bracket by not increasing our payments, and therefore that he was skirting some laws. They said that he could either be heavily audited by them, or he could raise the rent to the market value. He told me that he was thinking of fighting it. He said he felt like he had a moral obligation to give a single father an opportunity to raise a son. In the end, he was advised by the CRA, his lawyer, and his accountant not to take on the battle, because it would be hard on his business. So he very begrudgingly raised the rent for the first time—but only 3.7 per cent.
“In October, we got a letter from him saying that due to the new stress test for all mortgages coming in, he was very sorry but he’d have to sell the property. We had an open house on the Thursday, and within two weeks, possession had passed to a new owner. Our landlord made it a condition of sale that the buyer would respect our long-standing commitment to the community we had built, and that none of us would be displaced. He even took less money for the place in exchange for that assurance.
“The buyer went back on that agreement almost immediately after closing. By the end of that week, they said that their son and daughter-in-law would be moving in to one of the suites, and asked us whether we were prepared to pay between 30 and 40 per cent more rent. That was a shock. Aided by the realtor, they tried to divide and conquer our community, and throw us into a bidding war that pitted us against each other to stay.
“We weren’t going to do that. We jokingly call the place the Miller Mansion Compound, and it’s what I consider to be an incredible culture of sharing. We sit on each other’s porches, we have drinks, we talk, we have dinners, and we all have a very high respect for each other. I couldn’t look at the two new parents and their newborn in the eye, and say that my interests were more important than theirs.
“We all wanted to maintain our community, so we had a dinner to discuss our strategy and our rights. We confirmed that as a group we’d say no to their demands. Not an hour into the meal, everyone got a phone call from the new landlords. None of us picked up. But within 50 minutes of everyone leaving and going back to their homes, we got a knock at a door from them, asking if we’d decided to agree to their rent increases and sign a new lease. They said that because of their timeline, they needed us to make a decision within two or three days. We said that we needed a bit more time to think about whether to negotiate the price increase, or learn what our rights were, or look for a new place.
“On Sunday morning, I got the email telling me that I was the one who was going to be evicted. My son was coming home with his mother from Victoria. They arrived at 2.30, and at 2.35 the landlords drove from White Rock again to knock on my door. I was very stern when I saw them. I was literally in the process of breaking the news to my son that we wouldn’t be living there anymore. I asked them to please leave us alone. I shut the door pretty hard, sat down, and then got back up and said, ‘You can’t just show up at my door. Please call or email in advance.’
“I loved that property. When I first moved in, it was a rough place. In 25 days, I painted almost every square inch of the home. I tried to respect the integrity of the historical space, so I didn’t do it in a modern way. I picked colours that went with the theme of the house, and its history. With the help of my mother, I transformed the entire frontage of the property. It is probably the single most lovely home that has reflected who I am as a person.
“I met my partner eight years ago, and we could have moved in with each other then. We decided not to, so that we didn’t disrupt our kids’ routines. Her son was still attending his school, and I wanted my son to grow up like I did, right across the street from his elementary school and 50 feet from the high school. We’ve been very lucky.
“My partner and I are happy that we’re now going to live together—it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time—but we always hoped to make that move on our own terms. Right now, her two-bedroom place isn’t big enough for the four of us. The real human impact is that I won’t get to see my son for a week on and a week off now. I may see him a quarter of the time that I used to. That’s the hard piece for me, because I love my son—even though he’s a teenager. We’re trying to make the best of it, but there’s this absolute feeling of powerlessness. You think you have a little bit of control as a renter, but really there’s very little.
“The sale was handled so poorly from the beginning. It was just a transaction for the new owners. We went from our last landlord, who was such a wonderful person, to people only concerned about the money. The other tenants and I have decided that I will write a letter on behalf of us all to the realty board, to complain about what we consider to be unethical behaviour. We want to prevent this to happening to someone else.”