Renters of Vancouver: a do-nothing landlord
Renters of Vancouver takes an intimate look at how the city’s residents are dealing with the housing crisis. Tenants choose to remain nameless when sharing their stories.
“When my husband and I moved into our new suite in April 2013, the landlord marketed himself as a holistic, feminist, community-loving, fair-trade kind of guy. What we experienced was very different.
“He lived on the property, and he absolutely crammed it full of people. My husband and I lived on the ground level; the landlord, his partner, and his newborn son were in the middle. He rented out the top floor to four women and then leased his coach house to another couple. He didn’t treat anyone in that house with respect.
“He wouldn’t take care of his property. In our suite, for instance, all the bottom plugs of the sockets didn’t work. When we told him, he said it was an easy fix—and then nothing ever happened. The next problem was with the entrances. There were two ways into our suite, and he put in a makeshift door. The old door was just locked and never used, so we put a bookshelf in front of it. One day there was a rainstorm and it was really windy. Sheets of rain started coming in because the door wasn’t protected or weatherproof, and all the water started pooling. When he came to view it he was very dismissive—he said that it just looked like it came in under the bottom, which wasn’t true.
“He owned a business, but he kept all of his stock in the yard and in the house. Not only was the place infested with mice and silverfish because of that, but he was paranoid about people stealing his products because he would lock the back entrance to the yard and the alley. That’s how you access the laundry room and the bins for recycling—you have to exit the house to reach that area. He wouldn’t give anyone the key or tell them where he put it, and he kept hiding it in different locations. That made it pretty tough to do laundry.
“While our property was bad, though, the women upstairs had it even worse. They had to wear sandals because the hardwood floor was so awful that if they walked in bare feet they’d get splinters. Plus, while he made me feel really uncomfortable, he treated my husband and I much better than those ladies, because—and it’s frustrating to say it—i had a man around.
“One time he went up to one of the women and said, ‘I don’t care about your welfare. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just camping in my home. And look at how you’re all living—you’re disgusting.’ And it just wasn’t true at all—they were all lovely professional people.
“As well as being verbally abusive to the upstairs tenants, he also had a very fractious relationship with his wife. They would be constantly shouting and yelling.
“There are so many stories. At one point, there was only one woman upstairs. She had her boyfriend over, and he left at about 10 o’clock at night and walked down the stairs. The landlord came up and knocked on her door, and when she opened it he was just in a T-shirt and she wasn’t sure if he was wearing any pants. He yelled at her and told her that it was inappropriate to have that kind of walking noise at 10 o’clock, and left. When we saw her the next day, she was so upset that she just grabbed all of her stuff and moved out without telling him, because she just couldn’t be there anymore.
“My husband and I lasted three years at that place, mainly because we had two cats and I wasn’t prepared to give them up if we moved. But after we left, I kept in touch with the woman who moved into our suite, and we bonded over our mutual difficulties with this man. She left after three months.
“Not only would he enter her suite without permission, but she stopped talking on the phone in the apartment because she thought he was eavesdropping on her. At one point when she was calling me, she said that she was thinking of leaving. The next day he confronted her about it, saying, ‘Is it true that you don’t want to live here?’ She felt very unsafe. After she moved out, she showed me some of the texts that he sent her. He would get angry over really trivial things, like accusing her of putting too many items in the washing machine, and in one text he actually said that he was ‘watching her’.
“One of the tenants upstairs decided to go to the Residential Tenancy Branch. But when she did, they only said: ‘Oh, yeah, we have a file on this guy already.’
“People like this should not be landlords. And I don’t know what we can do about it.”
> BY CHARLIE SMITH
Vancouver council candidate Jean Swanson insists that there’s tremendous public interest in her call for a rent freeze.
At a raucous October 8 campaign rally in the Britannia secondary school auditorium, the antipoverty activist freely acknowledged that the landlords’ association doesn’t like her for proposing no rent increases for four years. But Swanson said she won’t stop pushing for this because rents are “skyrocketing”, exceeding $2,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver.
“We have thousands of signatures on our petition and people are basically snatching it out of our hands to sign it,” Swanson told the crowd of 125 people. “Then, while they are signing, they tell us about their own rent horror stories. A lot of people actually say we need a rent reduction.”
Vancouver voters go to the polls on Saturday (October 14) to elect a councillor to fill the seat vacated by Geoff Meggs. Swanson is facing three other independents—gary Lee, Damian Murphy, and Joshua Wasilenkoff—as well as five candidates associated with civic parties: the NPA’S Hector Bremner, Vision Vancouver’s Diego Cardona, Onecity’s Judy Graves, Pete Fry of the Greens, and Sensible Vancouver’s Mary Jean Dunsdon.
The provincial Residential Tenancy Act limits rent increases on an annual basis, but it sets no ceiling on how much a landlord can charge once a suite is empty.
Swanson said at her rally that if the province doesn’t exercise its powers in a number of areas, including housing, then it should turn this authority over to the city. On many occasions, her speech was punctuated by loud applause, perhaps most notably when she discussed drug overdoses.
Her landlord wasn’t the communityminded feminist he claimed to be.