“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“We’d been living in our home for about six years when the owner decided to remortgage the house. He wanted to buy a place in the interior, but because he was a tradesperson, he couldn’t get the financing. He had no choice but to sell our suite, which was part of the house that he grew up in.
“We had a very transparent relationship with him as a landlord. For the time we were there, we put a lot of maintenance into the property, and undertook some big projects like installing a front lawn. When he sold the house, he said, ‘Whoever buys this place, I’ll make sure I put in a good word for you. I’ll tell them what great tenants you are, and recommend that they keep you.’
“When the deal closed, the new owner said that he would keep renting the property. But soon after, the realtor—who was the agent for our old landlord—issued us an eviction notice on behalf of the buyer. It said that we had to leave because the new landlord would be moving into the suite.
“Our first step was to ask the realtor for the new landlord’s address or phone—anything beyond just his name—so we could contact him. He just said, ‘No, I have nothing to do with this—it’s just between you and him.’
“Had our lives been in any semblance of normality, we would probably have looked up our situation online, and found that we were able to challenge that eviction notice. We could have required the buyer to provide proof that he was moving in, like receipts that he had hired a moving company. But the window for that is really short.
“At that time we were living in crisis mode. Six weeks earlier, my daughter had nearly been killed in a car accident. She was riding her bike and the chain came off. It was a bike with back-pedal brakes, which meant that there was no way to stop. She rolled into 12th Avenue at rush hour, and got hit by a pick-up truck doing about 70 km/h.
“By some miracle, she only broke her heel bone, and got a deep laceration on her leg. She was so fortunate. But she was nearly five-years-old then, and her sister was one-and-a-half. With her in a wheelchair, and with another young child to look after, we were rushed off our feet. We had no family in town, no childcare, and we were trying to house-hunt after an eviction.
“We were lucky. We managed to find another place to live about a kilometer away. Thankfully, that meant that we didn’t have to change our daughters’ registration at kindergarten and daycare, but once we’d moved out, it was too late to challenge the eviction and have it overturned.
“We then found out that at the moment we left the house, the landlord had filled our suite with new renters. We talked to them, and discovered that he was charging them $500 a month more than we were paying. None of them were his family members.
“We decided to take our case to the Residential Tenancy Branch—and that’s when the landlord’s true colours started coming out.
“First we had to figure out who this guy was. We went and did a title search on the house, which cost us some money. There were two names on the deed: the landlord’s, and that of a private company. I then paid another lot of money to go through the corporate records, and found out who the directors of the company were. It turns out that it only had one director—and that director was the landlord. From then on, everything we did, be it registered letters or filing paperwork, had to be done in duplicate—even though they were both at the same address.
“We’d figured out who we were doing business with, so we sent the documents to summon the landlord to arbitration at the Residential Tenancy Branch. But the letters we sent were returned to us unclaimed. Both of them had sat at the post office for weeks, and were never picked up.
“A little while later, we had our arbitration hearing. When the time came, the landlord never showed up. We told the facts to the Branch officer, won the case, and were awarded a monetary order. What we didn’t know, though, is that the monetary order doesn’t mean anything on its own. If you want to get your money back, you have to go to Small Claims Court.
“Then we got creative. Just by coincidence, the landlord had evicted the new tenants the day after we got our judgement. He’d raised the rent another $500, and was looking for more renters. I decided to catfish him. I made up an email address, and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in viewing this place.’
“When he met me at the property I finally got to see him in person. I took down the make and model of his vehicle, got a physical description of him, and I told him that we had won our case. I gave him a copy of the monetary order, informed him of a deadline to pay, and instructed him how to give us the money. When I put it in his hand, he denied all knowledge of our eviction.
“From then on, all text messages to him went unanswered. We still didn’t know where he lived. We once paid a visit to the home where the registered mail we sent was returned from, and it was vacant—it was just a building under construction. But then we got a new lead. We had the idea to talk to the residents who had just moved in, and they told us that the landlord’s address on their lease was a business—and that it was in Whistler.
“We had to figure out what that Whistler address meant. If you want to summon someone to a small claims hearing, you must serve them notice, and we had to serve it in person. When I saw him the day after the hearing, I hadn’t registered anything with the Small Claims Court yet, so the demand letter didn’t really carry any weight. Now, we were faced with the task of handing over the legal documents in person, to an address in a different city, and we weren’t even sure if he lived there.
“I decided to hire a process server—someone to give him the documents for us. He was fantastic. He knew a ton about all the tricks that people pull to evade service, and he was extremely generous with his time. He went up to Whistler, knocked on some doors, and he talked to the people who lived at the address.
“The woman there said she’d never heard of the landlord—but the process server got her full name. When we Google searched her, it turned out that she was the corporate secretary at another company, where the landlord was the CFO. The building was absolutely acting as a shell address for him to receive mail for his business affairs without him ever being there, so that he could, presumably, avoid being served any documents.
“Here’s the thing about small claims. If you can’t serve somebody with a notice to appear at a payment hearing, you can to apply for an order of substituted service. It says that if you have compelling proof that the person is deliberately avoiding being served, then it’s sufficient to tape a message to the door of their house.
“I went back before a judge at the Small Claims court, and got that substituted order. Then I drove over to his previous business address in Vancouver—and here’s the twist. When I went up to the house, the landlord was there in person. He was just talking to a group of workers who were fixing up the property at the end of the workday.
“I walked up and addressed him by his name. He said, ‘I don’t know who that is.’ I told him that was strange, because I’d already met him before in person. When I started to give him the documents, he put his hands behind his back. He physically wouldn’t take them. I just looked at him, and said, ‘Actually, I don’t care. I just have to tape these to the door,’ and I did. He stared at me, and I left. I said, ‘I’ll see you in court.’
“As well as summoning him to the payments hearing, we had also put a lien on the house he’d bought. That meant that he couldn’t refinance or sell that house, as long as the lien was on it. At this point, he’d been renting it for two years, and it was just about the time that the interest rates started spiking.
“The day after I taped the documents to his door, I got a call from a guy who said he was the landlord’s lawyer. After inquiring a little bit, I found out that he wasn’t a lawyer—he was an articling student, and the landlord’s nephew. He said that the landlord didn’t want to come to the payment hearing, and that he wanted to settle. He said he would finally give us the money. We were happy for the whole thing to be done.
“After a few more phone calls, we took the lien off the house. I didn’t push too hard about making him pay the other expenses beyond what he owed me, because at any point he could have gone to the court, written a cheque, and given it to them. Then it would be up to me to go through another lengthy process of going in front of a judge to prove that I was entitled to that money.
“Eventually, his nephew came to my house, and brought me a cashier’s cheque. I signed a form for the release of the lien, and it was over. I’m willing to bet that this wasn’t the first time he was summoned to court.
“I’m now paying $400 a month more for our new place. I’m further away from the school, and we’ve lost all the connections with our neighbours. There are really no kids in this neighbourhood for ours to play with, and we have to drive the girls to school now rather than walking. Yes, we finally got our money. But we’ll never get our old living situation back.”More