Renters of Vancouver: “It seemed as if he had photoshopped the lease”

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

      "My two roommates and I were very excited when we found a place together. It was quite far out from UBC, but we’d managed to get hold of a non-basement suite with two bathrooms, a backyard, and a gorgeous view out onto the mountains. At first, the house felt like it was perfect—we’d made an effort to choose somewhere that we knew we’d be able to call home for more than a year, and the landlord seemed decent enough. Both of those things soon changed.

      We started having problems with our neighbours. We lived on the middle floor, and below us were three guys who liked to be quite loud. One of them started regularly coming home intoxicated in the early hours of the morning without his keys, and hammering on our entrance at 3 a.m. to try and get back into the house. We started to feel unsafe in our own home.

      The major problem, though, was the landlord. When we first signed the agreement to move in, we went through the lease line-by-line with him, and made sure we were all in accord. Any clause we questioned was discussed and amended, and initialled by both parties. Then the landlord took the lease, scanned it in to his computer, and sent us a copy by email.

      After six months, my roommate told the landlord that she was looking to adopt a dog. The landlord had already approved that decision, and it was written into the lease as an initialled addendum. But when she got in contact with him to say that she was about to begin her search for a pet, he told us that he would be moving his parents-in-law into the suite. He said that we could stay until the end of our lease if we wanted, but if we wanted to break the lease early and leave with his consent, that would be fine.

      A few months later—after we had taken time out to try and search for a new place—the landlord suddenly told us that we could stay, but only on the condition that my roommate didn’t get a dog, and that we would agree to a $300 increase in rent. That amount of money was above the 2.9 per cent maximum rise that he would legally be allowed, so we went back to look at our lease. That was when we started thinking that something might be wrong.

      We specifically remembered signing an agreement that said that when our first year was up, we would roll into a month-to-month contract. When we looked at the lease that he'd emailed us, it was for a fixed term of one year.

      When we examined the document more closely, it seemed as if he had photoshopped the lease to change the terms of the contract. If you look at the standard document template, there are two options. For the one-year fixed-term, there is a little square box that you have to initial—which we didn’t. Not one of us wanted that choice, and we remember checking with him that we were all in agreement that the lease would go from month-to-month. It looks like he had photoshopped the box to make it seem as if we chose the option for a one-year lease—which would give him the right to ask for as much rent increase as he wanted when the agreement ran out.

      He did a couple other things too. When we looked at the lease, we saw that he had taken out his initials where he had approved the dog. That was an important sign for us, because it proved that it wasn’t a mix-up of leases between the units he was renting, as my roommate’s handwritten addendum was still there. He also removed his own signature from the bottom of the contract—even though we all saw him sign it.

      We didn’t confront him about it because we didn’t have a copy of the original lease. We knew it would just be our word against his, and we’d have no case.

      At that point, we had completely lost trust in him, and decided not to renew or comply with his “fake" one-year fixed contract—but we were worried that he would take advantage of us by keeping our security deposits at the end. We didn’t do an inspection walk-through and sign off on any existing damages when we first moved in, meaning that the landlord would easily be able to say that any problems in the suite were entirely due to us, and take our money. Technically, because we didn’t sign the inspection form, he wasn’t even entitled to ask for a security deposit in the first place—but because we’d given him our money already, there was nothing we could do.

      We decided that we would reimburse ourselves for the security deposit directly from the last month’s rent, by only paying him the difference for that month. We knew that wasn’t the right way to go about it, but we thought it would be the only way we’d be able to get our money back. He threatened to evict us after 10 days if we didn’t pay him the full month’s rent, but, in the end, he let us stay. That was a very stressful time, though.

      Looking back, it seems like the landlord tried to take advantage of Vancouver’s super-saturated market, and the fact that we were young women and grad students, to manipulate us into raising the rent. I’ve learned some important lessons. I will now only sign the official government lease document, I’ll always ask for a duplicate paper copy at the time of signing the lease, and I’ll fill out an inspection form before handing over my security deposit."

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