Renters of Vancouver: “I paid rent to her 16-year-old son”

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      “Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.

      “I’m an international student. When I moved here I asked for advice about the best place for me to live. I needed something close to my lab at VGH and also near to UBC, and Kitsilano sounded great. I was told to search on Craigslist, even though I’d heard it could be a bit sketchy. I thought, ‘How bad could it be’?

      “The first apartments I viewed didn’t work out. They were closets downtown, or rooms separated in half by curtains. Then I found this house that seemed almost too good to be true. It was a great location, and the ad said that there were a few international people staying there. I never had a chance to Skype with the landlady, but we talked over Facebook Messenger. She seemed nice, and said that I’d have to pay a deposit right then. I did.

      “When I got there, I found that there were more than 10 people living in the house. It was the smallest place on the street, and it didn’t look like it could hold so many tenants, but somehow it did. I think there was supposed to be five bedrooms, but the landlady had made plywood or fake walls, and then pushed a lot of people in a big basement. During one month I was there, we had 14 people staying. It was cramped, but I’d paid my deposit so I thought I’d stick it out.

      “The first few weeks were okay. Everyone there was really nice. No one locked the doors, and people didn’t steal from each other. It was quite hippie, but nice. The landlady wasn’t around a lot, and that was cool. But then it started getting weird.

      “She started moving more and more of her stuff into the house, even though she didn’t live there. She kept taking things from us. At one point, we had a washing machine and a dryer, and then all of a sudden it vanished. We got a new one that we paid for, but she told us we couldn’t have it because the neighbours were complaining. I have a suspicion she took it and sold it.

      “She kept pushing more and more people into the house until it didn’t feel safe. Out of nowhere, six new international people would suddenly show up. Some would just stay in a van on the front yard, and she would charge $500 a week just for the sake of having them somewhere. Every now and again, a random person would wander in, and when we asked them who they were, they said they were there to view a room. The landlady wouldn’t say they were coming round, and after we tried to call her, she’d tell us to show them the house even though we didn’t know which room they were meant to be seeing.

      “What pushed me over my limit was when she started doing odd renovations and spray painting everything. I’d go down and look at the basement, and the whole place would suddenly be bright pink, and the door would be sprayed gold. Then half the bathroom would be silver. It was just so strange.

      “I found out she wasn’t technically the landlord, but was acting as a property manager. The weird thing was that I paid rent to her 16-year-old son. He would meet me on a street with two big dogs, and I would give him an envelope of money. She didn’t want to have any electronic transfers or any documentation of the rent. I don’t think she wanted the money to be able to be traced. We didn’t know who owned the place, but it looked like she handed over the rent to a guy who would randomly pull up in a van about once a month.

      “I was there for five months. I definitely stayed too long, but it was tough because everything else I saw wasn’t even a room—it was a wardrobe with a curtain—or it would be really far away from my work.  It was hard to find something.

      “I was glad when I finally left. I haven’t been by the house since, but it’s tempting to walk past and see if it’s still standing.”

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