RENTERS OF VAN­COU­VER

TEN­ANTS PUR­SUE LAND­LORD

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - > 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.

“We’d been liv­ing in our home for about six years when the owner de­cided to re­mort­gage the house. He wanted to buy a place in the In­te­rior, but be­cause he was a trades­per­son, he couldn’t get the fi­nanc­ing. He had no choice but to sell our suite, which was part of the house that he grew up in.

“We had a very trans­par­ent re­la­tion­ship with him as a land­lord. For the time we were there, we put a lot of main­te­nance into the prop­erty and un­der­took some big projects, like in­stalling a front lawn. When he sold the house, he said, ‘Who­ever buys this place, I’ll make sure I put in a good word for you. I’ll tell them what great ten­ants you are and rec­om­mend that they keep you.’

“When the deal closed, the new owner said that he would keep rent­ing the prop­erty. But soon af­ter, the re­al­tor—who was the agent for our old land­lord—is­sued us an evic­tion no­tice on be­half of the buyer. It said that we had to leave be­cause the new land­lord would be mov­ing into the suite.

“Our first step was to ask the re­al­tor for the new land­lord’s ad­dress or phone—any­thing beyond just his name—so we could con­tact him. He just said, ‘No, I have noth­ing to do with this—it’s just be­tween you and him.’

“Had our lives been in any sem­blance of nor­mal­ity, we would prob­a­bly have looked up our sit­u­a­tion on­line and found that we were able to chal­lenge that evic­tion no­tice. We could have re­quired the buyer to pro­vide proof that he was mov­ing in, like re­ceipts that he had hired a mov­ing com­pany. But the win­dow for that is re­ally short.

“At that time, we were liv­ing in cri­sis mode. Six weeks ear­lier, my daugh­ter had nearly been killed in a car ac­ci­dent. She was rid­ing her bike and the chain came off. It was a bike with back-pedal brakes, which meant that there was no way to stop. She rolled into 12th Av­enue at rush hour and got hit by a pickup truck do­ing about 70 km/h.

“By some mir­a­cle, she only broke her heel bone and got a deep lac­er­a­tion on her leg. She was so for­tu­nate. But she was nearly five years old then, and her sis­ter was one-anda-half. With her in a wheel­chair, and with an­other young child to look af­ter, we were rushed off our feet. We had no fam­ily in town, no child­care, and we were try­ing to house-hunt af­ter an evic­tion.

“We were lucky. We man­aged to find an­other place to live about a kilo­me­tre away. Thank­fully, that meant that we didn’t have to change our daugh­ters’ reg­is­tra­tion at kinder­garten and day­care, but once we’d moved out, it was too late to chal­lenge the evic­tion and have it over­turned.

“We then found out that at the mo­ment we left the house, the land­lord had filled our suite with new renters. We talked to them and dis­cov­ered that he was charg­ing them $500 a month more than we were pay­ing. None of them were his fam­ily mem­bers.

“We de­cided to take our case to the Res­i­den­tial Ten­ancy Branch—and that’s when the land­lord’s true colours started com­ing out.

“First we had to fig­ure out who this guy was. We went and did a ti­tle search on the house, which cost us some money. There were two names on the deed: the land­lord’s, and that of a pri­vate com­pany. I then paid an­other lot of money to go through the cor­po­rate records, and found out who the di­rec­tors of the com­pany were. It turns out that it only had one di­rec­tor—and that di­rec­tor was the land­lord. From then on, ev­ery­thing we did, be it reg­is­tered let­ters or fil­ing pa­per­work, had to be done in du­pli­cate—even though they were both at the same ad­dress.

“We’d fig­ured out who we were do­ing busi­ness with, so we sent the doc­u­ments to sum­mon the land­lord to ar­bi­tra­tion at the Res­i­den­tial Ten­ancy Branch. But the let­ters we sent were re­turned to us un­claimed. Both of them had sat at the post of­fice for weeks and were never picked up.

“A lit­tle while later, we had our ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ing. When the time came, the land­lord never showed up. We told the facts to the branch of­fi­cer, won the case, and were awarded a mon­e­tary or­der. What we didn’t know, though, is that the mon­e­tary or­der doesn’t mean any­thing on its own. If you want to get your money back, you have to go to small claims court.

“Then we got cre­ative. Just by co­in­ci­dence, the land­lord had evicted the new ten­ants the day af­ter we got our judg­ment. He’d raised the rent an­other $500, and was look­ing for more renters. I de­cided to cat­fish him. I made up an email ad­dress and said, ‘Hey, I’m in­ter­ested in view­ing this place.’

“When he met me at the prop­erty, I fi­nally got to see him in per­son. I took down the make and model of his ve­hi­cle, got a phys­i­cal de­scrip­tion of him, and I told him that we had won our case. I gave him a copy of the mon­e­tary or­der, in­formed him of a dead­line to pay, and in­structed him how to give us the money. When I put it in his hand, he de­nied all knowl­edge of our evic­tion.

“From then on, all text mes­sages to him went unan­swered. We still didn’t know where he lived. We once paid a visit to the home where the reg­is­tered mail we sent was re­turned from, and it was va­cant—it was just a build­ing un­der con­struc­tion. But then we got a new lead. We had the idea to talk to the res­i­dents who had just moved in, and they told us that the land­lord’s ad­dress on their lease was a busi­ness—and that it was in Whistler.

“We had to fig­ure out what that Whistler ad­dress meant. If you want

to sum­mon some­one to a small­claims hear­ing, you must serve them no­tice, and we had to serve it in per­son. When I saw him the day af­ter the hear­ing, I hadn’t reg­is­tered any­thing with the small claims court yet, so the de­mand let­ter didn’t re­ally carry any weight. Now we were faced with the task of hand­ing over the le­gal doc­u­ments in per­son, to an ad­dress in a dif­fer­ent city, and we weren’t even sure if he lived there.

“I de­cided to hire a process server—some­one to give him the doc­u­ments for us. He was fan­tas­tic. He knew a ton about all the tricks that peo­ple pull to evade ser­vice, and he was ex­tremely gen­er­ous with his time. He went up to Whistler, knocked on some doors, and he talked to the peo­ple who lived at the ad­dress.

“The woman there said she’d never heard of the land­lord—but the process server got her full name. When we Google-searched her, it turned out that she was the cor­po­rate sec­re­tary at an­other com­pany where the land­lord was the CFO. The build­ing was ab­so­lutely act­ing as a shell ad­dress for him to re­ceive mail for his busi­ness af­fairs with­out him ever be­ing there so that he could, pre­sum­ably, avoid be­ing served any doc­u­ments.

“Here’s the thing about small claims. If you can’t serve some­body with a no­tice to ap­pear at a pay­ment hear­ing, you can ap­ply for an or­der of sub­sti­tuted ser­vice. It says that if you have com­pelling proof that the per­son is de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing be­ing served, then it’s suf­fi­cient to tape a mes­sage to the door of their house.

“I went back be­fore a judge at the small claims court and got that sub­sti­tuted or­der. Then I drove over to his pre­vi­ous busi­ness ad­dress in Van­cou­ver—and here’s the twist. When I went up to the house, the land­lord was there in per­son. He was just talk­ing to a group of work­ers who were fixing up the prop­erty at the end of the work­day.

“I walked up and ad­dressed him by his name. He said, ‘I don’t know who that is.’ I told him that was strange, be­cause I’d al­ready met him be­fore in per­son. When I started to give him the doc­u­ments, he put his hands be­hind his back. He phys­i­cally wouldn’t take them. I just looked at him, and said, ‘Ac­tu­ally, I don’t care. I just have to tape these to the door,’ and I did. He stared at me and I left. I said, ‘I’ll see you in court.’

“As well as sum­mon­ing him to the pay­ments hear­ing, we had also put a lien on the house he’d bought. That meant that he couldn’t re­fi­nance or sell that house as long as the lien was on it. At this point, he’d been rent­ing it for two years, and it was just about the time that the in­ter­est rates started spik­ing.

“The day af­ter I taped the doc­u­ments to his door, I got a call from a guy who said he was the land­lord’s lawyer. Af­ter in­quir­ing a lit­tle bit, I found out that he wasn’t a lawyer: he was an ar­ti­cling stu­dent and the land­lord’s nephew. He said that the land­lord didn’t want to come to the pay­ment hear­ing and that he wanted to set­tle. He said he would fi­nally give us the money. We were happy for the whole thing to be done.

“Af­ter a few more phone calls, we took the lien off the house. I didn’t push too hard about mak­ing him pay the other ex­penses beyond what he owed me, be­cause at any point he could have gone to the court, writ­ten a cheque, and given it to them. Then it would be up to me to go through an­other lengthy process of go­ing in front of a judge to prove that I was en­ti­tled to that money.

“Even­tu­ally his nephew came to my house and brought me a cashier’s cheque. I signed a form for the re­lease of the lien, and it was over. I’m will­ing to bet that this wasn’t the first time he was sum­moned to court.

“I’m now pay­ing $400 a month more for our new place. I’m fur­ther away from the school, and we’ve lost all the con­nec­tions with our neigh­bours. There are re­ally no kids in this neigh­bour­hood for ours to play with, and we have to drive the girls to school now rather than walk­ing. Yes, we fi­nally got our money. But we’ll never get our old liv­ing sit­u­a­tion back.”

This fam­ily of four tri­umphed over a med­i­cal cri­sis and an un­fair evic­tion by chas­ing down their land­lord. Belle An­cell photo.

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