In prepared remarks in the legislature on Wednesday, BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said that being a renter was “fun” and “a rite of passage” during “kind of a wacky time of life.”
His comments did not go over well. On Twitter and Facebook and in media reports, people responded with ridicule and anger.
Vancouver is the second most expensive city for renters in Canada and young people are leaving in droves, their futures here sabotaged by soaring housing costs and failing, half-baked regulations. For the 21 per cent of B.C. renters who spend more than half of their income on rent each month, renting isn’t “fun” or “wacky.” It’s back-breaking.
For the 36 per cent of Greater Vancouver residents who rent, it’s not a “rite of passage.” When home ownership is impossible, renting fills their future with uncertainty and risk.
I tried to live and rent in Vancouver for four years. I always lived with five or more people, never paid less than $600 a month, and I had to move six times— usually to get away from stubbornly deceitful landlords, crumbling infrastructure or, in one case, a puppy mill operating in our detached garage.
I will admit, Wilkinson got one thing right when he called renting “part of growing up and getting better.” I did get better at filing lawsuits and reading paperwork. I learned how not to run away scared at the sight of yet another eviction notice. I memorized the Residential Tenancy Branch helpline phone number after dozens of afternoon chats on the bus. I asked my landlords to reread their own lease agreements and took them to court when I had to.
Fun and wacky this was not.
By my fourth year in Vancouver, I’d saved over $4,600 by fighting illegal rent increases, withheld damage deposits and unfounded evictions. Many of my landlords would still not have read over the lease by the time of our hearing with the Residential Tenancy Branch. Had no one ever called them out before? Is there no requirement that landlords know the law before renting?
No, there isn’t. A tenant’s rights are protected only insofar as they’re willing to wade, patiently, into the bureaucratic nightmare of B.C. tenancy legalese and paper cuts.
With each new tenancy dispute, my stress level got less and less sustainable. I’d been neglecting my passions and career. I was staying up all night reading legal arguments about cats. Lifestyle goals were an alien concept. Would I ever own furniture or start a garden? Should I even bother putting artwork on the walls? When my sixth landlord filed for eviction, I packed up and moved to Montréal. (After demanding that they give us one month’s free rent, which they must under these circumstances — and only if the tenant files the right paperwork.)
Moving six times was bad, but my rental horror stories are relatively vanilla for Vancouver. My health was never in danger from painted-over black mold or poorly ventilated basements. I was never misled into bankruptcy or losing half of every paycheque over decades. I was young enough to enjoy living with five other people. I don’t have any dependents to support.
That’s just not the reality for most Vancouverites, who can’t afford to live in their own city and don’t have the flexibility to move every eight months. Living in other people’s homes, waiting for the next big shakedown and fighting tooth-and-nail for every dime is exhausting.
I’m proud of having fought back, but it was never “fun,” and certainly not a “rite of passage.” I cringe at the shallowness of this dismissal.
Wilkinson, an elected official and leader of a major provincial party, should have a better understanding and respect for an issue that affects such a huge number of his own constituents.