Renters of Vancouver: “We thought we’d got a good deal—until my roommate and I started getting health problems”

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

      "I started having trouble with my landlord in 2013. I lived in a ground-level basement suite—one of the ones that are half above and half below the ground. It was a two-bedroom, and it was really tiny. It was dingy, and everything was breaking or falling down.

      Initially, though, we were happy living there. Our landlord seemed like a pleasant enough lady to rent from. The cost was under $900, which was really good for the area and great for Vancouver in general. We thought we’d got a good deal—until both my roommate and I started getting bad health problems.

      I went to the doctor, and the first thing she asked was whether there was mould in our home. She said that to develop the sort of sinus infections I had, a person needed to have been exposed to mould for a long time, and it usually relates to their housing.

      We had a look in detail at the suite, and we started seeing a lot of water damage and dark spots that we had previously overlooked. There was a lot in the typical areas like the bathroom—above the bathtub there were black marks all over the ceiling—but around the edge of the walls in the living room there was also visible water damage, and more evidence of mould.

      We asked the landlord nicely if she’d mind doing an inspection of the property. Everything began to go downhill with our relationship from there. She got really defensive, and started trying to blame things on us. It was not a fun time. Her daughter is a lawyer, and the landlord was suggesting that she’d use her to sue us. In the meantime, the landlord would come into the suite without giving any notice.

      We asked her again to get an inspection done for the mould. She called one of her “guys”, who said there was absolutely no problem. That seemed false to us—we could literally see it in certain areas—so we sent some pictures to a professional inspection company. They came for a viewing, and confirmed that the mould was definitely there.

      We then took it up with our landlord again, and she responded by saying that we had caused it. At that point we’d only been there for four months, which would not be enough time for us to be responsible for the problem. We also knew the people that rented the suite before us—it was my roommate’s brother and his best friend—and during their time in the apartment, they also had really bad health problems including sinus infections, bronchitis, and other respiratory issues. After they moved out, they got significantly better.

      We tried to talk to our landlord in a non-accusatory way. We told her that we were a little concerned, and that it was her responsibility to deal with it. At first she wouldn’t acknowledge that there was anything wrong, and then the next minute she’d say that the mould was our fault, and then she’d go back to denying there was any problem. It got really messy, and we had to contact the Residential Tenancy Branch.

      We wrote a huge report. It took up all our free time after work, because we had to continually change the document as she violated more of the tenancy act. In the end, though, we didn’t take our case to the hearing. Editing the report over and over was causing my roommate and me a lot of stress. We could have kept fighting it and drawing everything out, but it was taking up so much of our time, and we were just so tired of the situation. The Tenancy Branch has great intentions, but it just takes so long to get anything done.

      She tried to withhold our damage deposit, but luckily we managed to get it back on our own by negotiating with her. We threw down the tenancy act in front of her, and pointed out exactly where it said that she couldn’t keep our money.

      She didn’t seem too satisfied with that, though, because when we moved out she wouldn’t stop calling us. We had to reach out to the police to ask her to stop hassling us, and keep her away from our new apartment. The landlord eventually stopped trying to contact us, but then we got nasty calls from her daughter instead. I got a new number, and blocked both of them.

      About a year later, however, my roommate just happened to run into the daughter on the street, and she started being aggressive all over again. She was trying to get money for damages, and wanted us to pay the significant amount it would have cost to make the suite inhabitable. She said she would sue us, and we both replied that she should go ahead and try. We got a lawyer, because we weren’t going to let the landlord bully us, and our lawyer confirmed that they had no grounds for a suit.

      I wish there was some way to hold these landlords accountable. You have the Better Business Bureau where you can rate businesses objectively, but there’s nothing like that to alert you to complaints against landlords. I think that would be a really useful service to have."

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