Renters of Vancouver: “Her first instinct was to call 911”

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

      “I moved to Vancouver in 2011, and went straight to live in residence at SFU. Two years later I had to move out, and I quickly found that the struggle of looking for a new home is so real. I had a friend with a car who helped me search, but it became clear that the only things available in my price range involved me living in a house with eight people and one bathroom, in some terrible conditions. It was a long search and I almost gave up, but I finally got lucky and found a really nice house in Burnaby.

      There’s a cosy living room, an amazing kitchen, and the landlady is so great. She provided the beds and the bedding, all the dishes and pans, and I didn’t have to bring anything but my luggage. When I moved in I got on really well with the other roommates, and we had a fantastic time. Eventually, though, one of them had to move on, and the landlady found someone new to take the room. The new tenant wasn’t quite as good.

      The girl had come from India via Princeton in the States. Initially, she arrived with her mom, her dad, and her sister. She was only renting one small room, but we were surprised to find that all four of them stayed in the space. I think the deal was that the family were only supposed to be there for about a week to help her settle in and be comfortable. The sister and father left after seven days—but the mother never did.

      In the beginning, we were very understanding. I know it’s tough when you come into a new country and you need help settling in. I wish I had my own family around me when I first came to Canada, so I was really sympathetic to her mom being present for a little bit, and at the start they seemed like nice, open-minded people. That soon changed.

      The two of them became very possessive and started dividing up the house. They told us we could only use two of the cookers, because our food would contaminate theirs against their religious beliefs. They made us take our stuff out of half of the cabinets, and told us that those sections of the cupboards were for them only. They even designated areas for us on the kitchen tabletop and the sink. Next they got their own small fridge and asked us not to touch it. It was a nightmare.

      We tried to respect their rules, but it’s really hard if you’re sharing dishes not to place your items somewhere by mistake. At one point, I think I left a cooking pot on their side of the table, and the girl went crazy. She came and knocked on my door, and told me how I didn’t respect her, her space, or her religion. She said that I had contaminated everything.

      It got worse. One evening a really good friend of mine needed a place to stay, so I said he could sleep over. The mom and the daughter saw him the next morning, and they were really upset that a man was in the house. I explained that he was my friend, but they were still angry. They ended up emailing the dad who was back in India, and he called the landlady to ask if she would put security cameras up by the front door so that he would know who was coming in and leaving. The mom requested to put locks on the door with an entry code.

      The landlady was a bit taken aback, because she’s a really kind person and had already sacrificed a lot for the two of them. She’d let the mother stay, even though she definitely didn’t have to, and the girl wouldn’t give a final date for when her mom would be going.

      The last straw was when our old roommate came by the house to check her mail and grab the items she’d forgotten. When she turned up, only the girl was at home. The old roommate tried to explain why she was there, but the tenant’s first instinct was to call 911. She and her mom got on the phone to the police, and immediately three squad cars pulled up outside the house.

      We could live with them dividing up the kitchen and the living space, but the invasion of our privacy was too much for us, and for the landlady too. She finally asked the mom and the daughter to leave the house. We were happy that we only had to live with this situation for about four months, but it would have been nice if the landlord had really looked hard for some references for the girl and her mom. For the sake of the current tenants, I think it’s important that landlords do a proper background check.”

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