“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“My husband and I moved back to Vancouver about four years ago. We went to Saskatchewan to work. Housing was more affordable there, but he has two kids who live here. We realized after a while that spending a couple of months with them every once in a while wouldn’t cut it to maintain a relationship, so we came back. It’s been a struggle to find a good place to live.
“The worst was an apartment in New West. It was a two-bedroom plus den. We were actually taking over the building manager’s suite, because he had recently quit. That should have been a red flag, but when you’re looking for a place, you’re optimistic.
“Within the first day of being there, we realized that the apartment was infested with carpenter ants, there was mould in every room of the house, the windows were single-glazed, and our power bill from the baseboard heaters would be around $300 a month on top of rent.
“I got in touch with the new building manager, who lived in another complex that was owned by the same company. He gave us the number of the maintenance man. That guy looked after a number of the buildings and knew the law really well, and he told us that he had 12 business days to respond to any of our requests. By the time he showed up, I had a long list of issues. There were power outlets that don’t work, the dishwasher was broken, the over door didn’t close, the fridge wouldn’t shut, and the whole building was on a lean so I had to tape my doors closed.
“His idea of taking care of the mould was painting on top of it, and he put some steel wool in what he thought were good locations to stop the ants. Neither of them worked. I had to buy ant traps, even though I knew it was their responsibility. We hoped things would get better, but they got steadily worse. Soon, the whole wall next to the patio door was just black with mould. Every five days I sprayed it with bleach and vinegar, wiped it down, and did everything I could to stop it from spreading. It didn’t seem to help.
“Then we had some bad rain events, and everything started flooding. Water was pooling in the patio drains, and the rain was coming back up and seeping into the suites. Everybody on the ground floor had puddles in their apartments. I was trying to bail out my patio every day. Everything was floating—even my barbecue. My carpet was soaking wet. The mould kept coming.
“Finally, the maintenance man showed up again and he cut all the affected drywall off—but he left exposed mouldy insulation. I have a cat, and throughout all of this she was getting sick constantly. She had all these horrible sores on her. I took her to the vet, and the vet said that she was reacting to mould. I had to cover up the insulation with fresh cardboard and tape every day to stop her from going near it. In the meantime, my husband and I were getting sick too, and my stepkids were about to come over.
“Two and a half months later, I gave our notice. I knew that they would never fix anything, and that we had to leave. Then the fight was on to get our damage and pet deposits back.
“On the last day of our tenancy, we did the walkthrough inspection. They had repaired the drywall at the front, so it didn’t look there would be mould to the new tenants—who, incidentally, they showed round our apartment without giving us the proper notice. They decided that they were going to charge me $50 for small nail holes, even though they replaced the drywall. Then they told me to pay the full $250 pet deposit because they said that I didn’t have a flea inspection done—even though all the pest companies I called didn’t know anything about how to do it, and the professional carpet shampooing business I used gave me a receipt to say that there were no fleas.
“We disputed that charge at the Residential Tenancy Branch, and they filed for arbitration. The decision went in our favour, with the Branch ruling that they were unable to keep our pet damage deposit because our pet didn’t do any damage. But when we sent the decision to the property management company, they said that they didn’t agree, and that they’d never give us the money back unless we took them to Small Claims court. They also withheld the damage deposit, so in total, they owed us around $900.
“In a separate letter, the company then said that they were willing to give us $575, and no more. They informed us that if we took them to Small Claims, they would countersue us.
“This had already gone on for seven months. In the end, I just said that I’d accept their offer. It was so frustrating, because they have so much money. They own numerous buildings in Vancouver. Our $900 means nothing to them—but it’s worth a lot to us. They treated their tenants like crap when we were in the building and after we had moved out.
“Luckily, I’ve since found a place that’s great, not too far from where we were. The new company does nothing but put money into the building. They fully gutted my apartment before I moved in, so everything was brand new from the floor up—cupboards, bathroom, appliances, tiles, painting. They even left a little basket on the counter with a note saying ‘Welcome to your home.’ I’m glad we’ve managed to find a good apartment after such a bad experience.”More