“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
"While I was living in Alberta, a friend of mine moved to Vancouver. When I visited her, I fell in love with the place. Some years passed and I got married and had a family, but I always wanted to live in the city one day.
"In late 2012, I got my chance. I was offered a job that was way more money than I’d made before, and with the overtime added in I cleared about $96,000 a year. I soon discovered that wasn’t enough to survive the instability of the housing market.
"Initially, I went to Vancouver on my own. I had previously taken a job that involved a big move, and I brought my wife and son with me. The job turned out to be terrible, and I quit after three months. We decided it would be best for them to stay behind in Alberta, and I would go by myself first to make sure we were making the right decision.
"I found an ad on Craigslist for a two-bedroom apartment in Kits for $2100. It was right by the water, and was the top floor apartment with a rooftop deck. It was huge, had hardwood floors, and there was a view of the North Shore Mountains. I thought it would be perfect for our family.
"The landlord offered me a standard lease from the Residential Tenancy Branch website, and I went through everything with him. He said that he would refinish the floors, redo the counters in the kitchen, and would clean and seal the windows. I told him that I’d arrange to stay in a hotel for a few days to let him finish up the work on the apartment.
"Three days later, when he said he’d be done, I returned. He hadn’t completed the work. Instead, he’d enter and leave without telling me when he would be there, and randomly tinker with things without finishing a project. I couldn’t use the kitchen, and when he was in my apartment after I got home from work, he’d just want to talk all the time. It made me not want to be in my home. It was tough dealing with a new job, being apart from my family, and having a frustrating living situation.
"Then it started getting colder outside. All of the window seals were broken, and they all leaked when it rained. There was a constant issue with mould, and even when I put on gloves and a mask, sprayed it with bleach, and wiped it down, it would come back. But the real problem was that he would never turn on the heating.
"There were other difficulties too. The walls were super thin between us and the neighbours. They fought all the time and had wild hippie parties where people would bring drums and guitars and be up until about three or four in the morning. One day, on Boxing Day, I actually called the police. We could hear the officers banging on their door on the other side of the building, and they wouldn’t answer or stop. The landlord denied everything.
"I told him that I’d be happy to call it even, and he could let me out of the lease. He said that I had to stay, so I filed at the Residential Tenancy Branch because of the bylaws around heating. I bought thermostats to measure the temperatures, and proved that the bedrooms were 10 degrees or less. After two separate hearings, the arbitrator ruled that the landlord wasn’t providing me with what he stated in the lease, so because of the lack of heat, she awarded me with a 20 per cent rent credit for six months of the year when the heating should have been on.
"Then winter started in earnest, and it became the months when the rental credit should have been applied. I paid him the cost minus that 20 per cent. He then filed an eviction notice for non-payment of rent.
"He came over and got really confrontational. He was saying, ‘Why won’t you pay me the full amount? What have I got to do to get my money?’ I stayed calm, and said to read the arbitrators’ recommendation. I told him he would have to file his own hearing, prove to them that he’d satisfied the requirements, and I would pay the full rent. He was a bully, and it was clear that he thought he could treat people how he wanted.
"He was also very weird—almost creepy. The building wasn’t maintained very well—it wasn’t very clean—but he was there all the time. We were on the top floor, and the stairs from the floor below us came to our door. He would stand on the landing outside, and just stay there. We could hear him occasionally breathe, or see his shadow from the light under the door. That would happen regularly.
"Once he got mad about something and came inside our apartment. We had to get security cameras to record when he was entering, and one time, he started moving our things around. I was at work, and my wife got very upset. I called the police, and when they came they said that as long as he didn’t remove anything from the apartment, they couldn’t do anything.
"We knew we wanted to leave. We had been looking since the summer, and we couldn’t find anything that was worth moving to—but eventually we found a place we thought would solve all our problems.
"It was a new condo building in Mount Pleasant, and only cost $12 more a month. We were on the seventh floor and we had a view of Burnaby and the North Shore Mountains, laundry in-suite, underground parking, and a gym. Everything was amazing, until we went to renew the lease at the end of the year.
"We noticed that the place was listed on a real estate site as well as a rental site. The landlord was sneaky. When we asked her if she was putting it on the market, she said, ‘No, no, it’s an investment. I always said that if I found a good tenant like you, then I’d never sell.’
"We signed the lease. Three weeks later she had a buyer come through and make an offer.
"At the last minute, though, the deal fell through. She said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to put you through that much stress. I should never have tried to sell it.’ She swore that she would never consider putting it back on the market.
"Seven months later, she told us that she needed to come by because she was renewing her mortgage, and needed to have an assessor visit. That sounded really suspicious to us, so we stayed home. She was surprised that we were sitting in the house, because she was bringing through another string of buyers to look at the place.
"This was December, and our lease expired the next month. We called her about renewing our contract, she said it was no problem, but when we went to sign the papers, she told us we could only have it for two months because she’d sold it.
"The new owner didn’t want to have tenants in it, so they arranged their closing date to coincide with her kicking us out, and we couldn’t appeal it because the landlord made us sign a fixed-term lease.
"We came to Vancouver for a better job and a better life. That didn’t happen. We didn’t even try and find another place in the city after that. We just made the decision to move away."More