Fighting your landlord may not be the best option in Metro Vancouver's over-heated rental market.
At least that's what a Port Coquitlam grandmother found out when she stopped paying rent because the landlord wouldn't repair a electrical panel and stairs that were the only way out of the unit in a fire.
"It's really sad that landlords have more right than tenants," said the woman, whose name is not being published to protect the privacy of her grandchildren, who live with her.
For four years, she said, the landlord refused to make repairs to the bathroom plumbing, stairs and electrical panel, so she took her fight to the Rental Tenancy Branch.
However, in the end, she decided it would be easier to just move.
Boy, was she wrong.
She found rental prices to be ridiculously expensive and, because she has a large family, people weren't getting back to her.
"I hate to say this, but greed is what's driving up the prices. Many of the homes that I applied for re-listed their homes a couple of days later for a lot more than the original asking price. Also, I got zero response back after I said there was six children," the woman told the Tri-City News in a Facebook message.
After weeks of trying to find rental accommodation for her daughter, her daughter's two children and her four grandchildren, the 55-year-old grandma reached out to the Port Coquitlam social media group for help.
"I was looking for a minimum of four bedrooms. The prices ranged from $3,500 to $6,000. I was also finding that after a few days, the prices went up. I'm assuming this is because of multiple interest. My maximum is $3,000 but that's with my daughter and her income. And that's even a stretch after factoring in utilities and groceries."
Every time she made an inquiry about a place to rent, someone else got there first and offered more money.
In desperation, the PoCo woman looked into borrowing or renting an RV, making a plea for help via Facebook.
Her daughter found somewhere to live with her two kids, splitting up the family.
But time was running out.
Fortunately, someone from Facebook put her in touch with another family in Maple Ridge, so she moved over the weekend into two bedrooms in the shared house.
It's far away from the children's school at Birchland Elementary in Port Coquitlam, and the woman will have to try to get her grandchildren to the school on the bus.
It's a safe harbour for now, although not ideal.
She's hoping she'll be chosen to live in a new rental housing project, called The Alex, in Port Coquitlam, which will offer 83 units at deeply subsidized or below-market rates for women-headed households.
But there's no guarantee.
And knowing now the challenges of finding a decent rental property for a large family in Port Coquitlam, the woman said she isn't sure she made the right decision to fight her landlord.
"In hindsight, I wouldn't have complained and just stayed where I was at. The electrical issue and the back stairs were a major issue with me. I was afraid that a fire was going to eventually start and the only way out of the top part of the house was those stairs," she told the Tri-City News.
According to a recent study, Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge have seen a drop in vacancy rates in the city over the last 10 years.
According to Point2, an international real estate search portal, Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge are among B.C. cities with the lowest vacancy rates (under 3.4 per cent).
In the meantime, three affordable rental housing projects are on the books in Port Coquitlam, including the Alex:
- a 302-unit non-market rental proposal near downtown was recently approved for a land assembly on Kingsway Avenue.
- a 63-unit affordable housing building near Gates Park in Port Coquitlam was recently approved for 2481 Welcher Ave.
Meanwhile, something needs to be done to level the playing field between tenants and landlords, the woman said.
She would like to see a limit on rents landlords can charge, as well as more affordable rental housing.