Renters of Vancouver: “Everyone in the building started feeling sick”

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

      “I moved into a new apartment in 2009, and stayed there for about four years. I’m a librarian, and I took over the apartment from another library person. She told me right before I moved in that the neighbours were great and the building was cool—but that the landlords weren’t the best. She told me that one time she was in bed—naked—and the landlords walked in on her unannounced, with no notice. That sounded pretty weird, but I decided to take the place anyway.

      “The landlords were quite aggressive to one couple in particular. They had a strange idea that two people couldn’t share a one-bedroom, because there wasn’t enough space. The couple told me that they were getting evicted because there were two of them in that one-bed suite. That’s definitely not a legal reason to kick someone out, so I asked them if they needed any help fighting it. They mentioned that the landlords had been rude to them in the past—they kept insisting that the woman, who was Japanese, ‘speak English’, even though her language skills were pretty damn good. The couple said that they just needed to get out of the apartments.

      “The next fucked up thing the landlords did was to build a ‘wave energy’ machine out the back of the building. It’s a contraption that allows water waves to pass through its turbines to create power. They were making it in the backyard and basement, which included constructing a giant water tank for it to bob around in. That restricted our ability to use the common garden area by assigning it an industrial use, which is not allowed.

      “While they were constructing the machine, the whole building smelled like super intense paint, or that weird odor you get from markers. Everyone in the building started feeling sick, so we were all out in the hallways. All the residents had their doors open, with numerous fans going, and were calling the landlord. He just said that it was regular household paint. I didn’t believe him, so I looked in the dumpster, and there was loads of this heavy-duty fiberglass stuff. I looked it up on the internet, and it’s an industrial material. You need a lot of venting, and you need to wear a mask around it. The smell was so strong that it was coming in through the basement, and it was an old building with strange airflow, so the chemical odour went everywhere. The pregnant woman across the hall was worried that it would harm her baby, and loads of people had pets. I had to move out for a while to stay elsewhere, because I just couldn’t take it. The landlords didn’t seem to care.

      “Then I had some problems with my bathroom. I have an old-style cast-iron tub. It’s really cool, but the hoop above it that holds the shower curtain kept breaking. They decided that they would fix it themselves. The job took 10 weeks to complete. They took my shower apart, and built a total monstrosity. The vertical pipe went all the way to the ceiling, and then they got a piece of 2x4 to run it across the top and then straight down. And they built it out of copper pipe, which is very conductive. If the hot water was running, the pipes were scalding to touch. In the meantime, I had to take bird baths in the tub, using an empty cottage cheese container to pour water on my body.

      “I was so fed up by then that I submitted a complaint to the Residential Tenancy Branch. When we had our hearing date set, the landlords didn’t show up. They sent someone in their place, and that individual was just like, ‘Oh, well, they’re not here, so, ummmm’. The arbitrator was very matter-of-fact, and sounded a little at the end of his rope. He pointed out that the landlords had known that the hearing was that day, and was pressing the person about why they weren’t there. He came up with a bad excuse, and he said that he wasn’t really able to speak to the landlord’s side. I think they thought that they could stall it. In the end, I won my case.

      “Next we had a fight over the damage deposit. I had an office chair, and it did do a little bit of damage to the floor with its rolling wheels. But the lifespan of a wooden floor is 20 years, and I knew that the floor hadn’t been changed since the ‘70s. They were charging me to refinish the whole area, and I thought it was unfair that they’d expect me to pay for something already past its end-of-life. Luckily, they backed down at that point, so I didn’t have to go back to the Residential Tenancy Branch.

      “After that, I moved out because I came into some money. My grandma died, and she left me enough to be able to buy a place. She was a really hard-working, frugal lady, so I think she would have been happy that her money enabled me to get a toe-hold in the property market.

      “Leaving rentals to buy a place has given me more stability than I’ve ever had. But a lot of my friends aren’t in the same position, and they can’t afford to live here. The homelessness numbers here are ridiculous. Shelters are a good stop-gap, but there needs to be low-income housing created that’s subsidised by the government. It makes me really angry to see all levels of government squabble while people are living on the streets, or couch surfing, or living in crappy places. Landlords can be really shitty because there’s just nowhere to go.”

      Got a story to share? Tweet Kate Wilson here, or email k_wilson@straight.com 

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