What It’s Really Like to Rent in Vancouver
A young renter, a seasoned renter and a landlord tell all.
May 11, 2017
“I’ve lived in places with very lousy building conditions, and I’ve just been grateful that I’m not the one who has to deal with fixing those things. I kept my rent at $500 or so for the first five years that I lived here by living in really terrible places. I had a roommate who would just chuck all her cigarette butts in the hedge outside, and she lived there for about four years. When we moved out, they kept our deposit because the landlady found what must have been, at that point, thousands of cigarette butts in this hedge. And she was a landscaper, so I can’t imagine how much it hurt her. I got into the habit, too, so I wasn’t exactly innocent. We deserved to have that taken from us. Now that I know a little bit more about how much it costs to own a house, I don’t really envy the homeowners; honestly, I have really loved most of my roommates, but I don’t think they were good tenants.
I’m staying in my current place because it’s got a great location, the rent is good and we have so much space for downtown. The West End is the best. We’re here until they kick us out. Because we’ve been here so long, we take care of things. We have a crack coming through the ceiling and mold on the walls that we bleach once a month. The windows drip; there is a really adorable mouse somewhere. We call him Jerry, and Jerry is our pet.”—Chloë Lai, 30, West End
“I moved to Vancouver in 1974 when I was 17. My first apartment was in Kitsilano and it was $90 a month. When I moved here, the vacancy rate was even worse than it is now, but it always seems to bounce back. I was never in a position to buy, but I do feel that the city used to be more renter-friendly. Renting never used to be associated with the young or poor. The Kerrisdale and South Granville areas used to be considered good areas to rent in, and they had plenty of rental buildings. Most of those were torn down in the 1980s and now those areas are considered prestigious areas to own.
I now live in a North Burnaby character home that’s been broken into suites. It’s the nicest place I’ve lived, but it’s still very clearly a rental. I’ve been there for seven years now, so I pay well below market value—just $1,200; the couple who lives in the suite next to mine pays $1,600 a month. If the landlord ever decided to sell the house, I’d have to leave the city; there is no way I could afford to continue to rent in the Lower Mainland in this climate. Being at the mercy of someone else’s decisions is by far the hardest part of being a renter.”—Leslie Javorski, 60, Burnaby
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years. I should do credit checks, but I go on gut instinct. I’ve never been to the Residential Tenancy Branch, so my system is working. If you have problems with a tenant, you sit down and talk about it. The craziest thing I’ve had to deal with is what people have flushed down the toilet. You find the weirdest things in toilets: crab legs, toys, all kinds of weird stuff. People think they can flush anything down the toilet, but it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I have to break the toilet to figure out what’s in there, so you end up smashing the toilet and finding all these goodies.
I think that the media portrays landlords as greedy and chiselling every last dollar out of the property. Yes, there are a lot of bad actors who get into their property and don’t do any maintenance, but that’s a small percentage. Most people want to offer a good service. It’s been getting more difficult because of laws that are in favour of the tenants. A lot of buildings—mostly three-storey walk-ups—are falling apart because landlords are just not getting enough rent to fix things.”—Tony Haughian, age 56, owns one three-storey walk-up and 16 triplex houses throughout the city
Check back for more from our How We Live Now package, where we dive into the who, the where and the how of Vancouver’s renting scene.