Ren­ters of Van­cou­ver: a do-noth­ing land­lord

The Georgia Straight - - Housing - > BY KATE WIL­SON

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.

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