Renters of Vancouver: “I won my case, but I couldn’t get my money back”

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

      “Originally when I moved into my new place, I just dealt with a realtor because the homeowners—a husband and wife—didn’t speak English. When we did the initial walkthrough, I told the realtor that I had a dog. I paid the pet deposit as well as the rental deposit, and although we never wrote in the contract that I had a pet, it was pretty clear. On top of that, the husband and his daughter definitely knew about the situation, because when they came over on a number of occasions to fix things in the house, she was always there. Plus she’s a 175-pound mastiff, so she’s impossible to miss.

      "My theory is that the husband didn’t tell his wife about my pet—and that’s where the problems started. One day the wife showed up for whatever reason, and my dog came to the door. A few days later, I got a notice saying that they wanted me to leave, because I hadn’t disclosed my pet.

      "My contract was going to be up within the next month anyway, so I didn’t fight it. I spent two days cleaning the house to the point where it was spotless, and organized the final walkthrough with the husband and wife, and their daughter as interpreter.

      "When the day came, however, the daughter was very late. The wife arrived first, and started freaking out about something in the house. Because we didn’t have a common language, we weren’t able to communicate—so I phoned the daughter and told her that we couldn’t progress without her help, and I left.

      "I waited for a while before requesting my damage deposit. Because they never filed anything with the Residential Tenancy Branch, I assumed they weren’t disputing the fact that they owed me the full amount. I tried calling them several times, and sent a number of emails. Eventually I got a message back which said that they were at a wedding out of the county, and that they had written a long list of damages. That was unfair, because the house was way cleaner than when I moved in, and I hadn’t damaged it in any way.

      "I then filed with the Tenancy Branch myself to get back my deposit. That hearing was scheduled to happen nine months later, which was plenty of time for us both to gather our evidence. But while I had followed all the procedures and sent all of the documents to the landlords, I had received nothing in return by the time of the meeting.

      "That definitely helped the arbitrator’s decision, and he judged that I won the case. He said that my deposit had to be returned. But after I got the decision, I was unable to get my money back.

      "The landlords both ignored me. They didn’t return my calls and didn’t respond to any other method of communication, and I had no way of making them pay up myself. I had no choice to take them to the small claims court, which is where I’m at now.

      "I’m taking in my forms today, so we can set a court date. I know that I’ll win because I’ve already got the Residential Tenancy Branch judgement, but it hasn’t been easy getting to this stage. There are so many hoops to jump through for the Branch, and then even more for the small claims court—it’s quite a procedure to follow. Each time you file something, it costs you money. If you win you’ll recoup it, but you need enough to front the initial costs.

      "Sometimes when people win at the small claims court, they still can’t find the people to reclaim their money, if the defendants have moved on. I’m lucky, because I have the landlords’ home address, and know that they live there. I’ll eventually get my deposit back, but it’s been a lot of work.

      "In real estate, if you put money down for on a purchase, it’s held in trust so neither party can touch it. I think that’s maybe what the government should do for tenants—they should set up a trust division that holds deposits. That way, any disputes over the deposit could be solved at the Residential Tenancy Branch, and the money could be distributed immediately. It seems fairer for both the landlord and tenant.”

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