“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis. Sometimes—as in today's column—we expand our scope to other B.C. communities.
"We’re on Vancouver Island, and when my aging dad had to go into a home, we rented out his house to pay for his care. We've been landlords for five years now, we don't make a lot of money on it, but it does allow him to live in a place he needs to be, and to have all the things he needs.
"We had a tenant in the house for three years and she was great, she came with wonderful references, she had a good job, and she moved in with her teenage son, who was 18 at the time. There was never a problem, she was a real upstanding citizen, and met all our vetting and due diligence. We had a great relationship, we were close, friendly, and on very good terms. In the course of three years, her son had moved out, then lost his place and asked if he could move back in with his girlfriend. We were fine with that, so we amended the lease to allow that for a six-month period, although it wound up going on for a little longer.
"The son seemed like quite a nice young man. When you talked to him he seemed like a fantastic guy, and he really put you at ease.
"However, it turned out he had been involved with a Fentanyl ring.
"In June, we got a phone call from somebody who told us that we needed to get down to our rental, because there was a SWAT team with drawn guns and dogs all over the property. So we ran down there, and the RCMP had broken down the door, took it right off the hinges. A flashbang had been thrown into the house and it left permanent damage on the cement tiles. As it happened, our tenant was actually home at the time, she didn't know anything, she was sick on the couch and the door was unlocked so there was no need for any of that. She was weeping and really traumatized by the experience.
"We don't have official details but what we surmised is that a fentanyl or meth drop was made to the tenant's son—we don't know exactly what was in his possession—but the critical thing to stress that this wasn't a lab or anything, he wasn't actually making anything, just holding it for someone. We understand there wasn't very much in the way of drugs in the house, but they found some evidence of Fentanyl powder on a few surfaces so he was probably just storing the stuff there.
"As if that weren’t bad enough, it wound up costing us $6,000 just for the clean-up, which was really just a wipe-down, and for the engineering firm that did the testing for the drugs. We’ve still had to spend weeks in there cleaning, and as far as the cost of the actual repairs, like for the door and the floor, they’re above and beyond all that.
"The other incredible part of all this is that when the dust settles from the investigation, we will be paying the SWAT bill, or presumably, one-third of it. It's written into the local municipal by-laws, that in the event of an illegal grow-op or this type of thing then the property owner is expected to pick up the bill. And, of course, criminal events are not covered by our home insurance, so this will all be out-of-pocket.
"I understand all the implications of this, the terrible situation that was going on down there, but to dump that on us like it was our fault doesn’t make it right. All it does is leave the homeowner with high-risk and a danger of high cost with very little profit.
"You can get criminal checks but it doesn't make a bit of difference—we were doing walk-throughs, and doing our due diligence. I mean, what do you look for? It's easy to find a grow-op—that's been hard-wired into us by the government, we all know the signs to look for. But this is a whole different story all together, it's very difficult to spot the signs of something like this. He wasn't making it, there were no obvious chemicals or anything like that, and he didn't have drug stuff lying around.
"We’re coming forward now because this is the kind of thing other landlords need to be aware of. It’s a real problem, and it needs to be addressed by rental tenancy because responsible landlords can only do so much as a human being in regards to vetting people."
(Note: Many municipalities in B.C. have a Nuisance Controlled Substance Bylaw, which may contain provisions allowing for the recovery of costs required for RCMP involvement)