Renters of Vancouver: “I'm six months pregnant. We might not be able to move before our baby comes.”

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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 and I decided to look for a nicer place than our current home to raise our baby, so a few months back we started hunting. When we found the duplex that we’re in now, I fell in love with the place – it seemed so perfect. But when we moved in, we found that wasn’t the case.

      “With us having two cats, we had to search for several months before we found anywhere suitable. Most of the homes we looked at were nightmares to say the least. When we saw this suite, it seemed really nice and spacious. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large patio. I absolutely adored one of the upstairs bathrooms, and pushed for us to take the place.

      “When we looked round the apartment, it was in the middle of being renovated. We expected at least most of it to be done by the time we moved in, but we discovered that hadn’t happened. The landlady seemed pretty fed up with the whole apartment. She had dropped all the renos, and the cleaning. When we moved in a few months ago, the place was very dirty. Reno dust was everywhere, and the oven cleaning spray hadn’t been wiped away. Some of the blinds had been damaged, and the kitchen had been splattered with what I hope is just food. Some areas in the bathrooms weren't properly sealed, and two of the kitchen counters weren't even fastened to what they were sitting on. The landlady had left several things in the house as well – baskets of dirty laundry were lying around, painting tools were left in the fridge, and there were random boxes in the storage room. 

      “I'm currently not working because I get such bad nausea from the pregnancy, so I'm home a lot. I spent three days cleaning the place, and getting it up to par. At that time, I noticed a spider nest and a silverfish infestation that is so bad I have to wear a glove when changing the sheets on the bed because often I’ll see them running around on the mattress, and I have to kill them.

      “I tried to use one of the bathrooms upstairs one day, and after I had the shower running for 30 seconds, the water stopped coming out from where it was supposed to. Instead it was pouring uncontrollably out of the tap, and spraying out of the side of the shower head. The landlady sent a contractor in, and he discovered that the tap was installed with a small piece missing. After it was fixed, we were both too scared to use it, so we used the other bathroom shower instead.

      “After a month of living here, we both started to smell mould. We discovered that water was leaking onto the floor in the basement storage room, but we couldn’t find the source. To make it more confusing, the water would be there one day, and be gone the next. Eventually a contractor came to inspect it. There are two large wooden boards in the basement, screwed into a wall above several pipes. He unscrewed one of them, and discovered a wall of black mould. He fooled around with the plumbing and asked if I had used a certain bathroom shower upstairs. I said no, and that we had been too afraid to use it after the last water fiasco. He found a pipe leading from that bathtub which wasn't sealed properly. He tightened it, and told me that it looked like the mould was from the previous tenant using that bathtub and shower. He said that if an inspector were to see the wall, they would want it torn down promptly.

      “Black mould can cause serious health issues, and when I looked them up, I noticed I had a lot of the symptoms. It can cause dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. I thought it might just be the pregnancy, but my partner also has been experiencing the same thing, and so have other tenants in the building. I’ve done some research and it can lead to rashes, vomiting, and dehydration in babies, which can be life-threatening for them. Some people think that exposure to toxic black mould can cause stillbirths or miscarriages. It’s made me worried.

      “We politely tried, several times, to explain the health risks. The landlady messaged back to say that the whole place was painted six weeks ago, and that we must have made the mould – but it was impossible for that much to have grown during the short time we were living there. I had an expert confirm that it is black mould, but we aren't sure of what kind, because a lab test is $500. She suggested setting up a fan in that room, and I explained that a fan would only help spread the spores. She finally sent a contractor in to fix it.

      “When we returned that evening, the house reeked of paint fumes, and when we went to look at the wall, we saw that he had only spray painted over the most visible areas. Black mould needs to be handled in a professional manner. She said that the paint kills mould. I've found out that paint can't kill mold, but once you get rid of the spores, you can use certain paints to prevent it from returning. 

      “I contacted the Residential Tenancy Branch, and asked how I should proceed. They said that everything needs to be written and documented, and that we needed to send the landlady a letter with pictures. She never gave us a copy of the lease, so we didn't have her address. When I requested it, she got very defensive and asked why I would need it. I politely explained that we are just trying to follow proper procedure, and that we didn't want to start a dispute. We just wanted to do things right. She became very rude and refused to give it to us. She only owns half of this property, but when we asked for the other owners’ name and number, she again refused.

      “Soon after, she contacted us to say that she had decided to sell her half, and will be retiring. 

      “We asked her to make a plan with us to figure out how to address the mould together. When she said she wouldn’t, we told her that if we couldn’t make the plan happen we would have to give our notice. We think she took that to mean, ‘We’ll be giving our notice.’

      “Now we have our stuff packed. We are hopeful that whoever buys the place will be willing to fix the wall, but also we are prepared to start looking to move at the end of October. With a baby coming in January, we can't risk the issues that black mould poses to our health. This whole nightmare has left us feeling uneasy and demeaned. I'm six months pregnant. We might not be able to move before our baby is born. ”

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