RENTERS OF VANCOUVER
LEAD TENANT WIELD POWER
> 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 I moved to Vancouver in 2016, I was jumping between Airbnbs and hostels. A friend hooked me up with a Facebook group called Vancouver Collective Houses Network. I liked the idea of living with lots of people, and I had an image in my head of moving into a heritage house that was really cute and colourful, and it would be at the top of a hill so I could look over the mountains. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
“I saw a post in the group advertising a room in a two-bedroom for $650. I emailed the lead tenant right away, and she replied asking when I could come and look round.
“When I went to view the place, there were a few problems. There was mould everywhere, and the plug sockets were practically falling out of the walls. On top of that, there was a gaping hole in my bedroom door, like someone had just punched straight through it. But I had to weigh up the fact that it was so cheap and I would only have to share with one person. It seemed like too good of a deal to pass up, financially, so I decided to take the place.
“The first time I met the lead tenant, I thought she was cool. We were about the same age, and she said that she was a DJ and worked in film. I figured she’d be easygoing and that we’d get along. That was not the case.
“When I moved in, the red flags went up immediately. Firstly, she said that she would have a friend staying in the lounge for a bit. When I got there, it was a French-canadian guy who had rented out the lounge off Craigslist to live in. We actually got on really well, and he acted as a buffer between me and the lead tenant—so once he moved out two or three months later, our relationship got strained.
“The first thing she did was send me an email with a cleaning list that I had to adhere to—things that were commonsense, like drying the dishes after I’d finished washing them. She had a pretty high standard for cleanliness and said that I needed to sweep the flat every couple of days. I decided just to go with the flow and enjoy the fact that the place would be clean.
“Then one day she came home with a dead bat in her hand. She walked in while I was sitting on the couch and was like, ‘Oh, I just wanted to ask you a question: do you know how to dry this bat?’ She said, ‘This might sound weird, but I really like collecting dead things. I collected a dead bumblebee and a dragonfly once, and I dried them.’
“That was true. In the lounge, there was a massive mirror set up, which acted as her meditation centre. She had a written list of her goals, and had lots of photographs stuck on it. She had added the dragonfly and bumblebee and said that she was hoping she could dry out the bat so she could put it on display. I said that she should get it away from me—i didn’t want a bat decomposing in the house. At that moment, all its organs were leaking out.
“She said that she would doublebag it and just put it in the freezer. At first I found the situation hilarious, and then I realized that it might actually be a health hazard.
“Then she started getting really controlling. One evening, I had some friends over to do some meal preparation for a trip. She sent a message saying that she couldn’t sleep with all the cooking smells that were going on. Then she put a ban on using the kitchen after 10:45 on Monday through Friday.
“At this point she was working shifts, and she’d keep sending me any updates to her schedule. She expected me to reply with my working schedule, so we could make sure that we would be out of the house at different times. She wanted the place to herself.
“I let her know that it wasn’t fair to impose all these rules on me, especially when I wasn’t doing the same to her. We sat down and had a powwow. She had a really patronizing tone—she talked to me as if I was an employee. She said, ‘I don’t want you to feel like I’m micromanaging you, but I just feel like you’re not hearing me. I just feel like that you need to understand my needs.’
“She then said that instead of my boyfriend coming over every weekend, he should come over every second weekend, because Saturday and Sunday were her free time and she needed to ‘defrazz’.
“I blew up. I said, ‘I live in this place. I pay rent to live here. I’m not a guest in your house. I don’t want to walk around on eggshells just in case I disturb your delicate ears or your delicate nostrils.’ I said I was moving out. She said she thought it was a good idea.
“I wanted to leave as soon as possible, but she said that if I didn’t give her one month’s notice, she wouldn’t guarantee that I’d get my deposit back. She told me those were the rules in Canada. That’s not true for people who were subletting like I was, but she wasn’t budging. She had this condescending attitude and this superior sense of self-worth.
“I ran into one of the people who rented the floor above ours outside. I asked him about my roommate and how many people had lived there before I moved in. He said that everybody who lived in the property thought she was rude and manipulative. Every two months, there would be someone new who moved in the suite.
“Vancouver is a tough city to find a place to live, and it’s even harder when you don’t have any rights as roommate. The lead tenant has all the power.”