Renters of Vancouver: "They wanted a security deposit even though we weren't tenants"

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

      “My partner just moved here from the States, and we wanted to find a one-bedroom apartment together. We discovered that numerous landlords tried to take our security deposit upfront—at the time of our application—with no guarantee that we would be tenants.

      “I was moving out of a house that had become very difficult to live in. The landlord refused to fix anything. When we first signed the lease, the decks were unfinished and falling apart, and there was a big hole in the front one. He told us he’d mend it within a month of us moving in. There was no washing machine either, and he said that it would be a four week wait, maximum. It took six months to install a washer, and the decks took two years to be fixed.

      “The mice were a more recent thing—they’d only been around for about six months. The landlord sent an exterminator in, and when that didn’t work, he just stopped dealing with it. In the last little while, we started getting rats too. The house was gross. No matter how much we cleaned, it there was always more rodent droppings. We’d tried to contact him numerous times about it, but he didn’t ever fix it.

      “Then there were the cupboard doors that fell off and never got put back on, or my bedroom door which would come off its hinges every two or three months. He’d mend it so shoddily that it would just keep breaking.

      “We talked about going to the Residential Tenancy Branch to try and recoup the money that we were owed from his inability to control the pests, or to provide us with a safe living space. All of us were worried because we knew we would move on eventually, and we didn’t know what we would do if we got a bad reference. A year ago we were ready to take him the arbitration over the decks. We had photos, and documented evidence, and dated letters. We knew that if we filed, we would win. But if he gave us a terrible reference, we’d never find another place.

      “My partner and I were excited when he arrived in Canada, and we could move in together. Because the housing market right now is a little overwhelming, we chose to walk through the West End and hunt for a place by going door-to-door and looking for vacancy signs. It worked, and we soon had a few apartments we could look at.

      “At two of the places, we told them that we were interested and that we’d like to apply. They said that we’d have to give them our security deposit right away. We were like, ‘Okay, but does that mean that we’re starting the tenancy now?’ They said no. They told us that if they ran through our application and didn’t like it, then they wouldn’t have us as tenants. It was implied—but by no means stated—that we would get the money back from them if they didn’t want us as tenants. They didn’t say what would happen if we chose not to take the apartment ourselves. They didn’t give us anything in writing about getting the money back.

      “I called TRAC—the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre—and they confirmed that the practice was illegal: a landlord can only take a security deposit when the tenancy begins. Unfortunately, they said there was no way to enforce it.

      “As well as the fact that there was no guarantee we’d get our money back, handing it over would mean that we could only apply to one apartment at a time. They both told us it would be a week before we heard back. In the meantime, we’d miss out on finding any other apartments.

      “It doesn’t make sense. If we had a market where the tenant could choose anywhere they wanted, taking the damage deposit from them would seem more logical—even though it would still be in contravention of the Residential Tenancy Act—because the landlord would want to hold onto tenants. In a market where there are literally hundreds of people lining up for one place, it just seems like they would easily find the next person. Having to deal with the admin of giving back literally thousands of dollars to applicants seems like much more work, and there’s definitely potential there for something to go wrong.

      “It made me so angry. We were able to walk away because we had options—we had people we could stay with if it didn’t work out. I’ve got friends who have been looking to housing for six months and haven’t found anything, though, and if they were at one of these apartments, they’d probably hand over the money. I think income brackets make a difference. My partner and I both have full-time jobs, so with a dual income we had more choices. We weren’t looking for the very cheapest of housing. If you are, there’s nothing.

      “Now we’re very relieved to have found a good place. I was away on vacation, and I actually came back three days early to house hunt because we were so worried that we wouldn’t find somewhere. Luckily, the new apartment seems to have everything we need—and, incidentally, didn’t ask for a deposit upfront.”

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