Renters of Vancouver: “Fight your landlord”

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

      “My partner and I decided to move in with another couple. We found a two-storey suite on Craigslist, which was advertised as having two bedrooms and two bathrooms—one upstairs, and one down. When we viewed the place, the basement floor was being renovated, but there was still plenty of time for them to finish it before we moved in. We signed the lease.

      There were problems right from the beginning. By the time all four of us were living in the house, the bathroom was still not complete. I sent a letter to the landlord pointing out that in our agreement it said that there would be two bathrooms, but he didn’t respond.

      Meanwhile, we realized that we had no smoke detectors in the building, which is very old and made of wood. When I picked them up from the landlord and went to install them, the wiring was very strange because it was such an old place. I got my dad—who’s a contractor—to try, but he said we’d need a professional electrician. We shopped around for some quotes, and got the smoke detectors installed. I then billed the landlord.

      He absolutely flipped out. He said that we didn’t have permission to hire an electrician—which, while a little uncharitable, was fair. I was ready to write those costs off, until I asked him about the bathroom, which still hadn’t been fixed. We went back and forth over it for a month and a half, with him coming into our suite unannounced in the meantime.

      We started to get frustrated, so we sent a letter to the landlord telling him that we’d filed a claim with the Residential Tenancy Branch to either reduce our rent while we were living without the amenities that we’d signed for, or to force him to get it sorted. We told him when the hearing date was, and he was really unhappy.

      Then it started to get very cold, so we turned on the heat. No one had used the heating system for years prior, so when we opened the vents, there was so much dust, ashes and soot coming out that we started to get dizzy. We freaked out, because we had no idea whether it was dangerous for our health. We called the landlord right away and told him about the problem—but he refused to accept that there was any issue.

      When our Residential Tenancy Branch hearing arrived, the arbitrator said that if we both wanted to end the tenancy, we could draw up a settlement and walk away. For me, it was a principle thing, and I wanted to pursue the claim to get some justice for what we had been through. In the end though, because my roommates just wanted to leave the situation, we agreed to cut our losses and walk away.

      Then the month that we were set to leave, the thermostat stopped working. We had no heat. And next we lost electrical power to half the house. I offered for the landlord to come over and look at it, because we were still going to be living there for a month. He did nothing until right before we were set to move out, when he only fixed the thermostat.

      We then had the walkthrough inspection for our security deposit, and he accused us of breaking a tiny drawer door in the fridge. He tried to charge us for it, even though it was definitely like that when we moved in, and he knew it. I'd had enough. I looked him in the eye, and said that I wasn’t going to pay for anything. I told him that if he wanted to take money off my security deposit, he’d have to file for it at the Residential Tenancy Branch.

      He did—but when we got to the day of the hearing, I wondered whether he was going to show up. He hadn’t sent me any of his evidence, nor the suite’s inspection form. During the meeting, the arbitrator immediately recognized that I had none of the documents that I should have been given. When she asked the landlord, he said that he’d sent them to me sometime around February, even though there were no receipts or proof of registered mail. It was clear that he’d tried to bypass that part of the system. She told him that because he hadn’t served me with the evidence, none of it was permissible for consideration.

      The landlord then tried to claim more money. He said that after we had moved out, he went to check out the electrical problem, and spent $900 on rewiring because there was some weird switch problem in one of the bedrooms. When he tried to take that out of our deposit, the arbitrator shut him down. She pointed out that we had notified him of the problem, that he’d waited until we’d moved out to inspect it, and that it wasn’t our fault.

      Eventually, the decision came down that we’d get our security deposit back, doubled, with an extra $100 for the electrical issues. It came to about $2600.

      Since then, I’ve been trying to convince everyone I know to fight their landlord when they’ve been treated unfairly. Because our property owner lost money on the judgement, he’ll hopefully be a better landlord to the future tenants. I feel like the Residential Tenancy Branch is there to try and help you, and if you don’t use it, nothing will get better.”

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