Renters of Vancouver: “I felt so taken advantage of”

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

      “Four years ago, I moved into a new apartment. The property management company was fantastic. If I had a complaint about ants, for instance, within a day they’d have someone there. One time a plumbing leak happened in the wall in my kitchen, and they gave me a $50 laundry card for my trouble. They were so accommodating and helpful—and that’s why I had such a shock when I came to move out.

      “I found a place downtown, and gave my notice. The property managers told me that I’d have to be out by 1 p.m., and handed me some helpful pamphlets and move-out checklists. The people that worked in the building were all fantastic—but the woman who did my final inspection was very different.

      “On the day of my move, the truck I’d hired broke down, so the guys were late. They were just taking out the last thing, which was a bookcase that was backed up next to a galley-kitchen wall, and that’s when I noticed that there was staining on the carpet and on the paint directly behind. I ran downstairs, and told the company that there must have been some kind of plumbing leak. It had taken some of the colour off my furniture, and I couldn’t guarantee that the stain would come out of the carpet. But I told her that I’d hired a carpet cleaner, and although they were also running behind, they should be at the apartment imminently.

      “She told me it wouldn’t be a problem, because they were putting in new flooring anyway. I asked her if I should cancel my carpet cleaner, and she said that I definitely should. Five minutes later, she came upstairs, looked at the stain, and said that it was a good job they were ripping the carpets out—but she would still have to charge me for carpet cleaning.

      “I told her that I didn’t understand why that was the case. At this point I was running late, and I felt very flustered because I had to meet my new property manager for a walk-through inspection in a few minutes. I really needed to get out the door. I knew I was being ripped off, but against my better judgement, I said that I would just pay for the carpet cleaning.

      “She then showed me the walkthrough sheet, and there was another $300 worth of charges for cleaning fees. I was shocked. I had gone over the apartment with a fine-tooth comb—I had spackled every nail hole, twice. I bought a special toothbrush to clean in-between the tiles on the floor and in the shower. I used up six magic erasers cleaning every scuff off every wall—even in the closet where you’d kick your shoes off. I moved every appliance out, and washed the walls and the floor under. I took the vertical blinds down slat by slat, washed them and put them back up, and then spent four more hours cleaning the horizontal blinds. They were trying to charge me $70 for blind cleaning, $60 for apartment cleaning, and hundreds of dollars for general cleaning.

      “When I asked her what areas weren’t spotless, she said that they had a higher standard, which was ridiculous. I used to work as a maid, so I take the job very seriously. I didn’t believe that they would hire someone to come in and clean my suite—they were obviously just going to keep the money.

      “She said that I had agreed to the charges in my lease. I checked the document, and there was nothing in there. There was a form that said that if any cleaning had to be done on my behalf, I’d be charged $28 an hour—but there was literally nothing. I said I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but I couldn’t sign off on it. She said that if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t get my damage deposit back, which was over $1000.

      “I mentioned that I might have to consider taking a case to the Residential Tenancy Branch. She told me that—because my movers were running late—the Branch wouldn’t hear my claim because I wasn’t out by 1 p.m. I didn’t know if that was true, and I didn’t know how to find out if it was.

      “I am not a crier, and I am not a pushover, but at this point I was at my wits end. Everything was running behind, the movers were already waiting at the new place, I felt like I was going to miss my new apartment walkthrough, and I was already exhausted from all the prep that it takes to find a new home. At that point I just teared up.

      “I felt that if she was right that the Tenancy Branch wouldn’t let me apply, I would be out $1,000. It seemed to me that I could either lose $300 or $1,000, and I couldn’t fight anymore. So I just signed for the charges.

      “I felt so taken advantage of. This wasn’t a building owned by a landlord who might be on a tight budget. This was a huge, Canada-wide company that knows the laws. They’re extremely profitable, and they’re still squeezing extra unanticipated money out of their tenants. And they’ve made it an amount where it’s not quite enough to be worth the trouble of paying a $100 filing fee to the Residential Tenancy Branch, because you’ll only get $300 back.

      “I’ve put in a claim out of principle, though. I’m fortunate enough that the charges are not going to break me financially, but what if I was an older person, or a student? It’s important to hold companies like this accountable—if no one stands up to what they’re doing, then they’ll continue to take advantage of their tenants.

      “I know better than to sign something. What I should have done on the day is tell her to keep my damage deposit, take pictures to show how spotless the place was, file with the Residential Tenancy Branch, and potentially get double my money back plus my costs. But when you’re under that much pressure, it’s hard to keep your head.”

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