“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's residents are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I was born in Victoria and moved to Vancouver for school. Since then, the housing market has meant that I’ve had to bounce repeatedly between the two cities. I’ve had to move back with my parents and then take day trips from the Island to try and find a place here. I’m now nearly 30, and I’m still renting. I can’t find a decent home in Vancouver.
“The first room I had was while I was in university. It was pretty run-down, with no insulation, but I was a student and I didn’t know any better. The landlord lived in the basement, and he was very strict. He wouldn’t let us have anyone over. Other than me, he only rented it out to young Japanese women. I always suspected something strange was going on, and it was confirmed to me near the end of my time living there that he was taking advantage of some of the women. From what I could gather some of it was consensual, but one of my neighbours told me that he touched her in a way that felt inappropriate. I had a meeting with one of the other tenants and the landlord to discuss it. That episode was essentially what made me leave that house.
“My latest place has also been difficult to deal with.
“I was moving out of a room that was so tiny that it couldn’t fit a closet or dresser – literally just a bed. I found nice house in Kits that had a really great-sized bedroom, and it was a lovely building. I had an interview with two people that lived there: a guy in his 40s, who was the lead tenant, and his girlfriend. They said right at the interview that they’d take me. I asked if I needed to sign a lease, and he said, ‘No, no, it’s all fine.’ I went back to Victoria for the holidays, and my parents helped me move back to Vancouver in the New Year.
“I was told about his brother, who also lived in the house, but I was given the impression that he wouldn’t be around because he was often in Europe with his girlfriend. The moment I moved in and met him, I realized that he was not a person that I wanted to live with. He’s not an easy character to get along with. After we struggled to be civil, the relationship with the original tenant started to get a bit sour too. If I left a tiny piece of lint on the toilet seat, he’d leave notes saying, ‘Clean this up’. I tried to talk to him about it, but he didn’t want to know.
“In late September I discovered bedbugs in my room. I told the tenant who interviewed me as soon as I found them. I’ve never had them before in my entire life, and it was a real shock to see them. Most people appreciate that getting bedbugs is not a person’s fault – you can get them from a library book, or just pick them up from just sitting on the bus – but he didn’t see it that way. He said that the landlord was going to freak out, and that I had been negligent.
“The tenant made the phone call to the fumigator. I didn’t know who was responsible for the cleanup and the costs at that time, so he said that he’d pay half if I did too. The fumigator came while I was away from the house because I didn’t want to be around the bedbugs. When I came home, the tenant started treating me like a leper. He said I shouldn’t go into the living room, or sit on anything, or use anything in the house.
“I looked up at the Residential Tenancy Branch who was liable for the payment, and discovered that it was the landlord’s obligation. The tenant came up to my room, and was firm with me, and said that I had to pay, because I was negligent – even though I had done nothing out of the ordinary that would put me in danger of getting bedbugs. I told him what my rights were according to the Tenancy Branch as I understood them, and he said that it was a grey area. Because I wasn’t on the lease, I was technically a ‘roommate’, not a tenant, so I didn’t have the same rights or responsibilities.
“I said that I wasn’t going to pay anything until I talked to the Residential Tenancy Branch. A woman at the office there reassured me that the bedbugs weren’t my fault, or a result of being unclean. She said that unfortunately I’d have to consult with a lawyer, and offered me some contact numbers. I called UBC Law, and they said that I didn’t have to pay. Legally, the tenant, because he paid, would have to go to the landlord to get reimbursed. If the landlord refused, the tenant would have to take the landlord to court. It that failed, then I would have to pay half, because I’d already made that agreement – but that’s only as a final, and unlikely, arrangement.
“I tried to stay away from the house until I got this information. Finally, I told the tenant that I thought I should move out because our relationship had broken down so much. The tenant offered to pay the full bill if I left. I agreed.
“This last month, I’ve been looking all over for places – on Craigslist and other websites, and asking friends – and now it’s right at the end of October and I haven’t found anywhere. If I don’t get a place by November 1 I’ll have to move back in with my parents on Vancouver Island. I have no idea if I’m going to be here a month from now, or if I have to leave the city. At this point, I’m even looking at living in the YWCA Hotel downtown, because I might have no choice. Every place I look at, there’s so much competition. There are always people who are seemingly ‘more qualified’ for the home.”More