Renters of Vancouver: “Even if you get a verdict in your favour, there’s no way to get justice”

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

      “I lived in a basement suite at fourth and Macdonald. The owner of the property had a bunch of houses in the area, and at first our place seemed really nice and normal. And then a few weeks in, everything became crazy.

      Firstly, our landlord increased our rent payments regularly—every couple of months—which was really insane. But what was worse was that she would come into our house all the time. We would get out of the shower, and she would just be sitting in our living room. Although she owned all these properties, she did this thing where she pretended that she didn’t understand that she wasn’t allowed to be in there, even though she totally knew. Every day was honestly just a constant battle. And even if we wanted to leave, we couldn’t, because of our fixed-term contract.

      I was glad to convince my roommates to move to the place that we’re living in now, which was only a few blocks away. We love it, and it’s beautiful, but we’ve noticed that it’s owned by a big company that doesn’t really care very much about the tenants either.

      For the last couple of months there’s been a leak in the bathroom, and it’s going down into the apartment that’s below us. For about a quarter of a year, the property management company blamed us for not having two shower curtains. They sent us notices, even though we put two shower curtains up and waterproofed the entire area to the point that we actually took duct tape and fastened the curtains against the wall. Eventually, they had a tile guy come in who said that it was the sealant between the tiles in the shower—which was what we had told them, repeatedly. Then they made us pay for everything.

      Another time, the property manager wanted me to clean the bathroom. The room has no windows, and the ventilation system doesn’t work very well, so the whole place is mouldy. I didn’t know the difference between safe mould and the kind that will make you sick, so I went to get a specialist in. It turned out that it would be $350 for someone just to look at it and say whether it was dangerous. I just couldn’t afford that. Instead, the landlord wanted to me to clean the tiles, so I tried scrubbing with a toothbrush, which didn’t work. He said to get Tilex, even though on the bottle it says specifically only to use it with open windows and in super ventilated areas. I was in there with one hand over my mouth trying to scrub with this stuff, and not breathe.

      I did call the Residential Tenancy Branch this time, mainly because I knew that the mould and the water dripping through to the suite below wasn’t our fault. I was worried that we’d have to pay for repairs, or that our damage deposit would be taken away. Our landlord wanted us to spend $350 to fix the leak. Even though that’s not a huge amount of money, we didn’t want to pay for it out of principle, because we knew that if we accepted this bill then it might set a precedent for them charging us for much more expensive things in the future, and we were pretty sure that we shouldn’t be paying. But filing a claim with the Residential Tenancy Branch was $95, without any guarantee of an answer.

      Either way, we felt like we didn’t have a choice. The leak and the mould were big problems, but the real issue was that if we contacted the Residential Tenancy Branch, we were confident the landlord would evict us because we’re on a month-to-month contract. Taking a complaint to the RTB sours the relationship between the landlord and tenant. Regardless of which way the City ruled, we knew we wouldn’t succeed in staying in our suite, and couldn’t afford to move somewhere else.

      Under the current system, even if you get a verdict in your favour, there’s no way to get justice.”

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