“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“When I found out I was going to be going to school at UBC I wanted to stay closer to campus, so I found a group house with five other roommates in the Dunbar neighbourhood. That house served us very well, but—because we didn’t have the full contingent of people in the house for the final month—we had to find two subletters. We did the standard thing in that situation and posted on social media, but we didn’t get any bites. Then we went to Craigslist, and we did get two people who visited the house and decided they wanted to stay. One was the epitome of a nice guy, very solid, very helpful around the house and neat and clean, and the other one was Ray*.
“From the very beginning, Ray was quite a character. He showed up on a motorcycle—a large Harley motorcycle—and seemed to be a very shy, quiet guy, extremely polite and respectful. He said he was a graduate student at UBC, from White Rock, and he clearly had monetary means because he owned a large white cargo van, a sports car, and the motorcycle. Looking back, we wondered why this guy who was probably in his early to mid-thirties was looking to live in a student house over the summer. It should probably have raised a lot of red flags, but we were like, ‘What the hell, it’s only for the month’.
“When he first moved in he was great. He was helping clean up the house, and he was even trying to tackle a couple of technical problems we’d been having. But then he started to get really weird. He would engage me in conversations that were very strange, with traces of misogynistic patterns. He would say really inappropriate things about women who visited the house, like friends of mine who were almost half his age. I would have to say, ‘Look man, that’s not cool—I don’t appreciate you talking about my friends like this,’ and then he would shift into a rant about crime statistics in the South Side of Chicago, or just random weird factoids. And I noticed sometimes when I was coming home late, either from work or a social gathering, I would see Ray in his cargo van, at like midnight or 1:00am, just sitting there in our driveway, and I was like, ‘That’s really scary.’
“Ray also made some pretty unflattering remarks about my roommate’s mother. You can almost qualify them as sexual comments or sexual advances. He was extremely creepy to us, our family members, and our friends visiting the house. Every time this happened we told him very firmly that we didn’t appreciate it, and that’s not how he should operate. But it kept going. Two of my roommates are women my age and they definitely expressed at points that they did not feel comfortable or safe with Ray around, so this was really, critically, getting out of hand.
“What also freaked us out is that we quickly began to realize that Ray either had a lot of spare time on his hands or had a little bit of a smoking problem, because he would be either extremely high or extremely drunk at very random points in the day, and then would go off on even stranger rants than usual. At one point he came up to me, obviously very high, and told me this story that some people in the downstairs suite had come into our garage at night and vomited all over the place and it was covered in vomit and we had to go clean it. I said, ‘That sounds super weird and not something our downstairs neighbours would do,’ and then I went and checked and sure enough it was not true, but Ray was convinced that it had happened.
“I guess the freakiest anecdote would be when another roommate and I were coming home from a party. It was about half-past midnight, and Ray was outside the house. He was smoking a cigarette— it’s his legal right, there was nothing illegal about that—and as we approached he just stopped and looked at us, and said, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how attractive you guys were.’ I told him that I really didn’t appreciate that, and we went inside and locked our doors. We were at this point very scared. The only reason we didn’t kick him out of the home right away or take other measures was because we reasoned that this was only for the month, and he had never actually done anything along the line of dangerous behavior or touching anybody or doing anything like that—if that had happened we would have immediately called police and gotten him out of the home.
“Toward the end of the month, all of us were taking time to pack, and we were deep cleaning, scrubbing everything that we could find. Ray wasn’t doing anything. This was weird, because he had loaded a considerable amount of stuff from his white cargo van into his room—ten to twenty suits, formal wear, an exercise ball, small pieces of furniture, his own special mattress that he brought in, all of his clothes, a snowboard, and golf clubs. So I kept reminding him throughout the last two weeks, like, ‘Hey, you know we’re moving out at the end of the month’, and he’d be like, ‘Yeah yeah yeah…’
“Finally, it was the morning of the 30th and Ray hadn’t moved a single thing. I said, ‘Ray, you know all your stuff has to be out by 3:00pm tomorrow,’ because that was the time we had set with our landlord.
“On the evening of the 30th, I confronted him and said, ‘Ray, your stuff needs to be out.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, I made a deal with the landlord,’ and he told me that they’d set up a deal where he could stay in the house with the new tenants. So I gave our landlord a call and he said that it was absolutely not true, we all had to be out of there. So then I confronted Ray with this information, and he went on a bit of a racially-tinged rant. He called our landlord—and I hate using this word—a chink, which was weird because Ray was also Chinese. He then yelled the N-word several times and started talking about crime statistics in the South side of Chicago, which didn’t seem very pertinent to the conversation at hand.
“It seemed like it was time for us to sit down with the landlord, so I called him and he was good enough to come over. At that point Ray left. He hopped on his motorcycle while I was making the phone call and just peaced out. I was like, ‘What the hell’, so I phoned him and he answered—while on his motorcycle, which seemed pretty unsafe on his part—and I asked him where he was going. He said, ‘I’m going to get some chow mein,’ and I was like like, ’Dude, we need to sort this out.’ So it’s just me and my landlord sitting uncomfortably for about ten minutes, and he’s not very happy. His English is kind of rough, but he did imply that he could sue us because the subletter, Ray, would fall under our lease. At the time I realized that this was probably, frankly, balderdash, and that this was not how the law works—but still, I realized that I had to get the situation sorted fast.
“Eventually Ray came back, and I tried to convince him that staying was not in his best interest, and he lied several times—he said that I had not told him at any point that he had to move out in a month. Anyway, I did get Ray to agree to move out, and when we stood up we shook hands with the landlord, Ray refused to shake my hand, and he said it was not his cultural custom. I responded, ‘You’re from White Rock’.
“That night, Ray went to the downstairs tenants’ suite and asked if he could Airbnb a room there, to try to stay in the house, I guess. But they were friends of ours and aware of the problems we’d been having with him and his generally creepy nature. So they were like, ‘Hell no,’ and then after that he asked them if he could pitch a tent in the back yard. They were like, ‘No, that’s illegal—that’s quite literally squatting.’
“The next day, me and my roommate finish deep-cleaning the entire house, and we did a really bang-up job. We had to be out by 3:00pm, and Ray did not start cleaning up until noon. I quite literally had to confront him and just say, ‘Get your shit out,’ because at this point my patience with him was very much expired. We even went as far as to help him bring some of his stuff into his creepy white cargo van. And at the end of the whole thing, because we didn’t trust him to handle his own stuff, we were the ones who wound up cleaning his room in the end. The landlord came through, he was really pleased with the job we did, and gave us the whole security deposit back. At that point, we just ran, and got out of there as quickly as we could.
“After that, I don’t know what happened to Ray. I was just happy to be out of there.”
*name has been changed