landlord tenant canada

Tenant says difficult landlord ruined her move to Canada

A Metro Vancouver renter who recently moved to Canada says a strenuous landlord relationship and lack of affordable housing alternatives have turned her fresh start into a nightmare.

Yuka S., who is keeping her last name private to aid future housing searches, alleges her landlord doesn't respect her privacy, has made her feel uncomfortable with comments about her appearance, and has questioned her whereabouts. She also had an issue with a camera opposite her unit door and faced eviction last summer after a confrontation with the landlord.

At times, things have become heated. Yuka recorded the landlord calling her a "piece of garbage" while moving his car. At other times, he has allegedly banged on her door when she'd received a package in the mail — something she found intimidating.

But with similar units going for close to double what Yuka is currently paying, she feels she has nowhere to turn.

Renter dreamed of moving to Vancouver for a decade

Yuka knew she wanted to live in Vancouver ever since her first visit about 10 years ago. She went to college in Toronto, but the pandemic kept her stuck in Japan and delayed her planned move to BC. Her permanent residency finally came through last year, and she relocated to Metro Vancouver.

After spending years and thousands of dollars to get her PR, she was excited to begin life on the West Coast. But the reality of the housing crisis quickly caught up with her.

Forced to abandon hopes of living somewhere bigger or closer to her job, she got realistic and moved into a private room attached to the landlord's family home in Surrey for $750 a month. The room is cramped but contains its own toilet and shower.

Her bachelor suite door opens onto the family's deck, and a set of stairs leads to the basement, where there are three other tenanted suites. The room is so small there's no space for a fridge. Yuka purchased her own and keeps it outside on the patio.

From the beginning, she says the landlord was tough to deal with.

"He was really creepy," she said. "I've been sexually harassed many times in Canada. As a Japanese woman, I feel like over-sexualization of Asian women, especially Japanese women, is real. Even though there's no way to quantify this, I feel it on a daily basis."

Tenant feels harassed, landlord says he's being friendly

Yuka's feelings of being sexually harassed began when the landlord sent her a friend request on Facebook as the tenancy began. When she'd go outside to get food from her fridge, she said she'd face questions about where she was going and with whom. As well, the landlord once told her in-person that she had nice skin.

The landlord, Tan Tai Bui, says he was just being amicable, saying this is how he usually talks with his other tenants. When Yuka told him his questions made her uncomfortable, he claims he stopped asking. As for the complexion comment, the landlord said he mentioned it came up that she was vegan — and again, he thought it was a friendly conversation.

The landlord says this is the first time he's encountered tenant problems in the 20 years he's rented out suites in his Surrey house. He says the tenant's reaction to what he viewed as normal conversations has prevented his family from enjoying their home.

It's a situation that clearly isn't working for either party. Both have attended Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) hearings over disputes.

Yuka has taken to filming her interactions with the landlord to gather evidence for RTB hearings, but it's a practice Bui says makes him uncomfortable. The videos have been edited for privacy reasons.

Watch: Tenant films landlord outside her door

The tenant doesn't like how Bui sits outside her door, but Bui says it's his backyard and he's entitled to enjoy it — whether by sitting and reading, entering via the back door, or watering his vegetable garden. He says the family typically enjoys barbecues out there, but they haven't had them as often since the tenant moved in.

In cellphone footage, Yuka records herself opening her door multiple times to find Bui sitting outside — once on an upside-down recycling box, another time on an overturned bucket, and finally on a newly built swinging porch seat.

Yuka alleges Bui spends hours outside every day. In a recorded conversation, Yuka makes it clear she doesn't like the landlord sitting outside her door, to which Bui replies she can't film him.

When Yuka confronted the landlord about what she felt was sexual harassment last summer, she alleges he retaliated by cutting her off from the WiFi, blocking her car, and serving her an eviction notice.

Bui said he served her the eviction because she was recording him.

Yuka was able to get the eviction cancelled at a November hearing with the Residential Tenancy Branch, but the environment is still tense.

"I've lost a lot of hair. When I was waiting for the outcome of the RTB hearing, I was scared I might be homeless. I had a panic attack and had to go to the hospital," she said.

The 30-something works an office job in Richmond but says the salary isn't very high. She couldn't afford a private room elsewhere. Rents in Metro Vancouver have shot up post-pandemic, with Zumper reporting that the average asking rent for an empty studio in Vancouver was $2,050 in January.

"I don't think I could even rent a room for $750," Yuka said.

$750 a month suite doesn't have WiFi

Another point of tension in the tenancy is Yuka's access to WiFi. Bui let her use his family's WiFi at first, but at some point, she was cut off. Bui says his home's WiFi didn't work for several months, including for his family.

WiFi wasn't included in the lease, though Yuka says his verbal agreement that she could access it on a phone call should be considered a binding agreement.

At one point she tried to have her own connection installed in the unit, but the Telus technician knocked on the family's door instead of hers. Ultimately, the family didn't let the technician install a connection for Yuka because it would involve drilling holes in the wall. Bui says she's welcome to install her own WiFi as long as it's a wireless connection.

Yuka has been using her cellular data to work from home, but it's costly. If she'd known she wouldn't have had WiFi in the unit, she says she'd have gone somewhere else.

She also says Bui took away her parking spot in the home's backyard as retaliation, though Bui says Yuka misunderstood, saying her lease never included parking.

She's contacted police several times about her disputes with the landlord and over an incident where she thought a bear banger was a gunshot, but she says nothing has been done.

Surrey RCMP officer Constable Sarbjit Sangha said the force couldn't confirm or deny an investigation exists to protect privacy. Sangha confirmed officers sometimes attend landlord-tenant disputes, but further action is rarely taken if no criminal offence has occurred.

Yuka also has an active complaint against her landlord with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner because of a security camera opposite her unit. She believes the landlord could see into her studio unit when the door was open. Bui moved the camera after her complaints.

landlord tenant canada

Yuka S./Submitted

The building contains the landlord's family home on the upper levels and Yuka's self-contained studio apartment on the ground floor with three other tenants in below-ground suites.

City of Surrey bylaws only allow one secondary suite per home. A spokesperson for the City shared that information about fines and tickets regarding secondary suites is not public.

Bui's other tenants have lived there for as long as five years, and they signed a letter along with Bui saying Yuka has infringed on their right to quiet enjoyment in their home. One of the other tenants who signed the letter also tried to ask Yuka on a date — which fuelled her feeling of discomfort.

Yuka has received two cease-and-desist letters from Bui's legal counsel advising her not to film him. Property records confirm Bui owns the Surrey home.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said his government has taken steps to protect renters against bad actors by strengthening penalties for landlords who evict tenants in bad faith and further restricting short-term rentals to open up more long-term housing options.

"It is infuriating to hear about someone taking advantage of the housing crisis to harass a tenant," he told us. "We know more needs to be done … We won't stop until people have the safe, affordable homes [they] need."

Metro Vancouver's housing crisis makes moving out challenging

In texts from Bui's daughter, the family suggests Yuka move out.

She's thought about it.

She's considered getting on a plane back to Japan on multiple occasions. But she doesn't want to give up all she's worked for because of a bad landlord experience. What's more, she believes the landlord is retaliating after she declined his advances.

"I'm more angry than scared. This is my third house already since I came here last spring," she said. "I spent so much money and effort, so many years to get my PR. I will feel so angry if I have to give up my investment."

Yuka's story is just one of many about tenants staying in uncomfortable situations because of a lack of affordable housing in the Lower Mainland. A recent Habitat for Humanity study found more than half of BC residents spend 50 per cent or more of their income on housing.

High housing prices are sticking Metro Vancouverites with family, roommates, and other less-than-ideal housing situations for longer than they're comfortable with. The situation is so dire that some politicians are asking the province to introduce vacancy controls to keep rents down on open-market units.

For Yuka, she's sad that her stressful housing situation has sullied what was supposed to be a proud accomplishment. She also doesn't think she's the only recent arrival in Canada who is dealing with landlord problems. She believes some landlords seek out and exploit new arrivals because they may not know their rights or feel it's worth the effort to pursue justice if they're only staying temporarily.

“I have unlimited time here in Canada, but for most Japanese people they have to go back to Japan after their working holiday or student visa expires,” she said. “I was so happy when I first came here last March. I’m very proud to have this job. I’ll feel so mad if I have to give it up.”

After dealing with the difficult housing situation for nearly a year, Yuka tells us she’s finally found a new place to stay. She’ll be moving this summer.

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