Renters of Vancouver: "We're challenging our eviction to show landlords shouldn't get away with this”

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

      “Our landlord has made life a living hell for us.

      After our second year in our five-person house, the landlord wanted us to sign another one-year lease. We had a chat with her and said that we’d prefer to let our contract roll into a month-to-month agreement, as set out under the B.C. Tenancy Act. She said ‘No, that’s not how the law works.’ Although we told her that we could quote the subsection of the Act, she said that she didn’t want to hear it, because she knew she was right. When we tried to call her back, she wouldn’t respond.

      Two days later, she dropped off an eviction notice in our letterbox. It wasn’t a legal one—it was just a document she’d written herself. She thought that she could throw us out because we didn’t sign the one-year lease again, even though that’s an unlawful reason for eviction. 

      We did everything in our power to get hold of her, until a couple days later, she stopped by unannounced with a notice to show the place to new tenants. I was being nice to her, and told her how much we loved living there, and that we didn’t realize the one-year thing was so important to her—it was a big step to jump to eviction. I told the landlord we’d be prepared to sign the one-year lease, and that we didn’t want things to blow out of proportion. She was nodding and smiling, but wouldn’t commit to anything.

      We contacted the Residential Tenancy Branch, and they confirmed that the eviction notice was not legal or valid, and therefore that she couldn’t offer the house to new tenants. We tried to get in touch to the landlord, but again we got no reply.

      Next she started trying to evict us for other reasons. The landlord said that we had more than five people living in the house, and tried to gather evidence. She showed up at our home unannounced, and entered the basement without giving the legal 24 hours’ notice. The landlord went around taking pictures of all the bedrooms, even though some of the roommates were actually in them, and one person was even getting changed at the time.

      We informed her that what she was doing was illegal, and started videotaping the entry to document it for the Residential Tenancy Branch. She said that we couldn’t film her, and grabbed the phone out of one of my roommates’ hand. He asked her to give it back, and blocked her from leaving until she gave back his property. She refused, because she was convinced that filming her was against the law. That stalemate lasted about 10 minutes, and she got more and more hysterical. At one point she tried to shove our roommate out of the way. We had to call the police to diffuse the situation, and literally to get the phone out of her possession. When they came, they confirmed that it was legal to film her, and that we were correct to block her exit until our property had been returned.

      We decided to go to the Residential Tenancy Branch to get more advice. By complete coincidence, on the day my roommate had his appointment, the landlord was also in the waiting room. He asked the arbitrator to talk to both of them at the same time, and everyone agreed. It was just a consultation rather than a legally binding conversation, but he confirmed that everything the landlord had done was against the Tenancy Act, and that entering our house without a lawful reason was also criminal. They went their separate ways, and later that week, she gave us the proper documents for eviction with one month’s notice.

      A couple of days later, we found out that the landlord had also submitted a case for 'emergency eviction', and that we had to go immediately to the Residential Tenancy Branch for a hearing. The reasons for emergency eviction have to be severe—almost life-threatening—and the landlord consequently has to have a lot of proof to back up the claim. We had a very stern and knowledgeable arbitrator, and after going through the evidence, she quickly ruled in our favour. 

      A few hours later, our landlord went door-to-door to talk to our neighbours. She was trying to get people to keep an eye on us to attempt to prove that there were too many people in the house. Over the next 20 or so days, she came to our home seven or eight times to try and gather information against us.

      We then had another hearing at the Tenancy Board to battle the second eviction notice. The landlord’s arguments were very convoluted, and obviously she didn’t have the legal grounding to remove us from the house. The arbitrator made his judgement immediately, and sided with us again. Sadly the hearing was a long one, and we didn't have time to go through the damages that we were told to submit. We’ll have to do that in the future.

      The problem is that landlords don’t get punished for doing any of these things. We’ve looked at a lot of cases at the Residential Tenancy Branch to see what compensation we might be able to claim, and the minimal amounts of money barely hurt the homeowner at all. Our landlord has at least six Vancouver properties. That family’s net worth must be millions and millions and dollars. In previous judgements where tenants have been treated as badly as us, they’ve got back about one months’ rent. To someone who's a millionaire, that’s hardly a penalty.

      We’re challenging this eviction to show that landlords shouldn't be able to get away with this. She's done everything wrong. She’s entered our house unannounced, turned our street against us, and illegally tried to evict us—and for her punishment, she collects our rent each month. That doesn’t really seem fair.”

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