Renters of Vancouver: "I was calling the cops on a regular basis. They brought their dogs."

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

      “I lived in an apartment building for eight and a half years. It was sold. When everyone else chose to leave the complex, I stayed. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but I wasn’t ready to leave my home—and I wanted to see what would happen if they didn’t follow the law.

      “The new owners notified everyone that they wanted to start working on the building in four to eight months’ time. They told us that they would need to evict us all, and that they had started the process of getting permits from the city. They didn’t say what they wanted to do to the property, but from what I know now, I think it’s most likely that they’ll gut the building and renovate it.

      “They gave us a lot of information about Vancouver’s tenant relocation policy. It specifies a number of things, including their right to help you find a new place, and the financial compensation that we’d be entitled to. It also provides an allowance for moving expenses, and gives us the right of first refusal of a room in the new apartment block, with a 20 per cent discount. It’s a pretty good plan—but I noticed that in the document they gave us initially, not all the details were correct. That’s when I started to correspond with the City of Vancouver.

      “Around November, the company gave everyone a form to mutually agree to end their tenancies. They also offered all the renters a $250 signing bonus. At that time, I knew that the new owners didn’t have the permits to begin the renovations. I decided not to agree to end my lease, because I wasn’t ready to move, and a city official confirmed that I wasn’t obligated to sign. As I understood it, my lease with the building manager—and our commitments to each other—would continue.

      “Everyone else in the building signed and left. Maybe they didn’t understand the situation, or maybe they were just all ready to move on. Either way, I was the only one who stayed.

      “March was okay. They shut off the water one weekend to work on the heating. That week, it happened to snow, so there was no heat or hot water for a few days, but after that it seemed to be fine.

      “It was June when weird noises started. I’d hear sawing. I started to realize that people were breaking into the building. I’d go downstairs and see that pipes were missing, and I knew that people were coming in and stripping out the copper while I was asleep.

      “It didn’t seem too frequent at first, but as July came around, it happened regularly. I guess the word was out that there was a near-empty building. With my job, I get home at 3.30 in the morning, and that’s often when people would break in. I was calling the cops on a regular basis, and they’d come by and bring their dogs. That happened four times. On one occasion they heard noises from outside the building themselves, but after they swept every floor, they couldn’t find the thieves. I started to feel unsafe.

      “Then in July, the owners shut the water off. At one point, someone had broken in and torn out some pipes, and water was flooding the basement. The building manager knocked on my door, and said that there would be no running water for a bit. I thought it would be a quick fix. It soon became apparent that they were never going to repair it.

      “I paid rent for August as usual, even though it was basically impossible to use the suite. There was no running water. There was no heat. There were holes in the drywall that I constantly worried were letting the asbestos out. I had to wear a mask in the halls.

      “I then called the city, and found out that they’d finally got the permits issued in August to begin work on the building. If they followed the law, they’d only be allowed to send out a two-month notice to end my tenancy at the start of that month. Instead, I got an email from the building manager saying that they’d throw my stuff out on August 29. They said that I could collect it off the street at 11 a.m., or they’d put it in storage at my expense. I never got a proper notice from them to say that I should move out.

      “The suite has become so unlivable that I’ve moved in with my dad. Did I stay past the date of sensibility? Yes, I probably did. But I’m still able to use the tenants’ relocation plan, if I want to, and I wanted to see how they would follow the law. Some people have said that I did the right thing trying to fight the good fight, and others have said that I’m crazy and should just have left. For me, renovictions are a big problem in Vancouver, and I wanted to stand up for tenants’ rights.”

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