Renters of Vancouver: “We took a big property management company to court”

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

      “My girlfriend and I were living in a building in New Westminster that was run by a large property management company. We decided that we wanted to move to Vancouver to reduce our commute time and live closer to our friends and family. To do that, we had to break a clause in our lease.

      “When we moved in, the landlord made us sign an addendum that said that if we left our home before our fixed-term was up, he would keep our $700 damage deposit. We found out that these additions are fairly common, and we actually saw the same agreement on my brother’s lease when he moved to Vancouver in late 2017.

      “When we were preparing to leave our suite, we gave 30 days of notice of our departure, and showed our unit to about 15 different potential tenants, for around three weeks. We provided multiple applications to rent the unit at the same monthly rate. Thankfully, the landlord was able to lease out the unit starting the day that we vacated.

      “Nevertheless, the landlord and property management company insisted on keeping our damage deposit.

      “That seemed unfair. We figured that if we vacated the unit and left it nice and clean, they could easily have someone move in as soon as we left. On top of that, they would most likely be able to get a bit more rent out of the situation.

      “We did some research, and found out that the clause we had signed to forfeit our deposit was unenforceable. It’s written in the Residential Tenancy Act that a landlord can’t just decide to keep a damage deposit. As long as the right notice is provided, and a tenant provides other similar applicants to take over the lease, the landlord can’t unreasonably deny the tenant the opportunity to move out. As well, if a landlord doesn’t lose any money as a result of damages or lost rent, they can’t withhold a tenant’s deposit.

      “When we brought this to the landlord’s attention, he just kept saying that it wasn’t true, and that we had signed a contract. Although that was the case, contracts don’t supersede laws set out by the government. This didn’t seem to click with him, though, and he kept saying that this was standard procedure.

      “The worst thing was the aggressive negotiation tactics the property management company used to take as much money as they could from our deposit—even though they weren’t entitled to any of it. We’d bring up the fact that it was against the Tenancy Act, and they would say things along the lines of, ‘Well, we want to work with you here, so how about we only take $400 of your deposit instead.’ When we doubled down on the fact that it was against the law, and told them we were willing to bring this to the Residential Tenancy Branch, they would respond, ‘We’ve been down this road before with other tenants, and we’ve been able to recoup all of our money back. You’re probably better off just paying us a portion of the deposit’.

      “Luckily, my girlfriend and I had the time and resources to take them to court. A few months after, we had our hearing, and the property management company had to provide us our deposit back in full.

      “When big companies like these use such aggressive tactics to try and get as much money as possible from tenants, many people are taken advantage of. They might not fully understand the rules in place, or not have the time to take their case to the Residential Tenancy Branch.

      “I sympathise with landlords, because some tenants are awful and can cause a lot of damage to a property, or a loss of revenue. However, rents are already very high, moving is expensive, and taking an entire deposit even though the unit is rented directly after a tenant moves out seems unreasonable to me. As a landlord myself, I’d be quite happy if my tenant gave me 30 days’ notice, hired a professional cleaner upon vacating, and provided similar and qualified tenants willing to pay more for rent.

      “In this housing market, landlords rake in a ton of money—in our case close to $10,000 went to the property management company. That’s fine, but when monthly income to home expenses are at all all-time high, and you’re breaking the law to take someone else's hard-earned cash, I’d say there’s something wrong with the ethics of the company, and the representatives who knowingly enforce these practises.”

      Got a story to share? Tweet Kate Wilson here, or email k_wilson@straight.com 

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