Every Saturday, the Georgia Straight publishes a story about how Vancouver’s residents are dealing with the housing crisis. Each tenant remains nameless when sharing their experiences, and their words are their own. This year, as rents continue to skyrocket and the vacancy rate hovers at less than one per cent, there have been countless individuals who have been pushed from their homes. Renovictions, demolition of a building without permits, or the landlord allegedly moving a family member into the building have displaced multiple individuals. Despite having well-paid, full-time jobs, some now face homelessness. Many have young children.
Although the dissussions are often powerfully sad, there are a few accounts that celebrate the landlord-renter relationship. Each person’s story is unique.
Below are 10 of this year’s most-read articles.
"It was June when weird noises started. I’d hear sawing. I started to realize that people were breaking into the building. I’d go downstairs and see that pipes were missing, and I knew that people were coming in and stripping out the copper while I was asleep.
"It didn’t seem too frequent at first, but as July came around, it happened regularly. I guess the word was out that there was a near-empty building. With my job, I get home at 3.30 in the morning, and that’s often when people would break in. I was calling the cops on a regular basis, and they’d come by and bring their dogs. That happened four times. On one occasion they heard noises from outside the building themselves, but after they swept every floor, they couldn’t find the thieves. I started to feel unsafe."
"When I moved in, he figured out my schedule pretty fast. He would time his walks with his dog so that he would be going down the stairwell at the same time as me, and he’d say, ‘Well, we may as well walk our pets together, eh?’ I didn’t know what else to do, so I’d agree. He was very chatty. I learned his life story from beginning to end, and all the bad things that had happened to him. Initially I was very nice to him, because he’d had a lot of trauma in his life. Being a compassionate person, I wanted to listen and help.
"Then he would start texting me to hang out. I didn’t really feel comfortable saying no, because if I did I knew that there would be animosity, and he’s my building manager. So he’d come over and vent to me. He’d say things like ‘Wow, you’re way nicer than the girl that used to live here before.’ "
"In general, there are a lot of questionable people here. I was warned to always keep my door locked, even if I was just going downstairs to do my laundry. For the most part, the individuals I’ve met, especially my direct neighbours, have been helpful and friendly, but there are others who are less so. Recently, for example, I had a small cabinet that I’d left downstairs while I waited for someone to carry it up the three flights. I put my name and apartment number on it, but it was stolen. A week later, it was returned by a man who I suspect of being a crack addict, who tried to sell it back to me for $10, saying someone sold it to him.
"There was another incident just a week or so after I moved in. I was in the laundry room chatting to another tenant and heard a loud noise. We were told to stay in the room. There were police everywhere. Evidently, they’d thrown a stun grenade through a ground floor window to apprehend a man who was alleged to have robbed someone on the next street. This is the kind of place it’s turned out to be."
"My partner is a trans-female. We not only thought the city would be safer for her, but it’s also the home of the beauty school where she wanted to study. I have three children, aged seven, nine, and 13. The eldest is autistic, and was not receiving the right support in Prince George. Vancouver has many more resources to help with autism, and that was a big reason for the move. I’d been planning it for at least three years—but if I knew then what I do now, there’s no way I would have come.
"My middle child got really sick in December, and ended up having her appendix removed. During the time that she was in the hospital, she came down with a really bad respiratory virus. She has asthma—which I thought was controlled well enough—but the virus triggered a very severe asthma attack. It was really frightening. She was hooked up to facemasks and machines to she could breathe, because her oxygen levels were so low. We almost lost her.
"As a result, we were late on rent."
"He lived on the property, and he absolutely crammed it full of people. My husband and I lived on the ground level; the landlord, his partner, and his newborn son were in the middle; he rented out the top floor to four women; and then leased his coach house to another couple. He didn’t treat anyone in that house with respect.
"There are so many stories. At one point, there was only one woman upstairs. She had her boyfriend over, and he left at about 10 o’clock at night, and walked down the stairs. The landlord came up and knocked on her door, and when she opened it he was just in a t-shirt, and she wasn’t sure if he was wearing any pants. He yelled at her, and told her that it was inappropriate to have that kind of walking noise at 10 o’clock, and left. When we saw her the next day, she was so upset that she just grabbed all of her stuff and moved out without telling him, because she just couldn’t be there anymore."
“At two of the places, we told them that we were interested and that we’d like to apply. They said that we’d have to give them our security deposit right away. We were like, ‘Okay, but does that mean that we’re starting the tenancy now?’ They said no. They told us that if they ran through our application and didn’t like it, then they wouldn’t have us as tenants. It was implied—but by no means stated—that we would get the money back from them if they didn’t want us to rent. They didn’t say what would happen if we chose not to take the apartment ourselves. They didn’t give us anything in writing about getting the money back.
“I called TRAC—the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre—and they confirmed that the practice was illegal: a landlord can only take a security deposit when the tenancy begins. Unfortunately, they said there was no way to enforce it."
“The house is famous among skaters. We normally have between nine and 11 people there year-round, but in our skateboarding season it can go up to about 26 for a few months because individuals come to crash at our place. A lot of people don’t really have enough money to be staying in hotels for things like competitions, so the house is a big part of the community.
“We’ve had a verbal agreement for the last seven years that the landlord won’t take care of anything that breaks—we fix everything ourselves and use our own money—and in return he turns a blind eye to the amount of people who live there. When we took over the house, there was a pretty bad mould problem, and mice, and the basement floods. The house didn’t really have locks, either. The agreement was that we’d have the property until it was torn down. That all changed one day."
“The next day, my inbox was flooded again. Because there were so many responses, I decided I would just do an open house for an hour to make it fair to everyone. People immediately started asking whether they could come early, or whether they could see me that night instead. They said that they had the deposit ready, and that they wanted to come and pay me right now. I told them they would have to come on the day with everyone else.
“When I came up to prep the house half an hour before the viewings were set to start, I opened the blinds, and I could see people walking up to the front entrance. There was already a lineup outside the door."
"We said that our aim was to rent long-term, and the landlord told us he wanted the same thing. A few months later, he sold the place. Those new owners evicted us for 'landlord use' because they wanted to move in, even though it’s most likely not true. If they do make the house their residence, I suspect that they’ll stay for a short while to get us out, and then sell it on. Either way, our family has until the end of September to leave.
"It’s been impossible to find a new home because we have a child. Places repeatedly tell us that they won’t accommodate a baby. I can show you a picture of my sent emails—I’ve fired out hundreds of messages to potential spots. I’ve sent a minimum of 10 a day, every day, for the last month and a half. And I’ve got six responses back."
“The landlords were a husband and wife. She was from China, and he was Canadian. They said I could stay on the couch for a week while I was looking around for places. I searched hard, but couldn’t find anything suitable. After that time was up, they just said that I could stay full-time, because the landlady would be back to Beijing in a few weeks and I could have her unit for a little bit. That’s how our relationship started.
“The couple’s backgrounds were really great for me, because coming from China and being so far away from my family meant that I was sometimes very homesick. They would very kindly occasionally make a meal for me, and help me to feel less lonely. My English level at the time wasn’t very good, but the landlord had conversations with me and helped me improve a lot of my spoken English. He told me about everything that was happening in the city and the community.
“Before I moved to Canada, I was on the waitlist for a dorm room at UBC. For my second year at school, I finally got a place on campus, and I moved away from the landlords. Even so, I still visit them regularly—at least once a month. They are very nice to me, and I’m very grateful that for the first year I had a place to stay with them. These days I have a job in Delta and it’s a long commute. I have less time to visit them, but I still go because I’m very thankful for the support that they gave me."