Tales from rental hell

Emilie Bourque tells you how to deal with a lording landlord.

Let’s face it: there’s usually a gap between living with mom and dad and being able to afford your own home, that is at least a few years long. At some point in life, most of us find ourselves in the ‘tenant’ category.

And although many of us are living in peaceful harmony with our landlords, you don’t have to look far to find someone who isn’t.

Virginia, a 25-year-old server, is one of a number of people I know who have had bad experiences with landlords in the last year.

Everything started off well, but went downhill quickly in the end.

“We never had any problems until I went on vacation for a week and my friend stayed in my place,” she says.

Two friends, one who stayed there a few nights, and another who was just back and forth a few times to help out, were both taking care of her cat while she was away. When she came back she found a note on her door telling her to leave.”What she wrote me in my eviction notice was four pages long,” she says. “It was a personal attack.”

“[The note said] I was subletting my apartment… [but] I was only out of town for a matter of six days.”

She felt like she was being treated unfairly, so she contacted the Residential Tenancies Division of the Provincial Government to figure out if the notice was legally binding.

As it turns out, she says, “if they just slap something on your door, and it’s not filed officially… it’s not binding.”

Virginia in turn filed a Termination Notice, and moved out mid-August. There will be a hearing next month to determine whether or not she has to pay the second half of August’s rent, since she was not living on the premises during that time, and felt too uncomfortable to stay.

Nicole, a 20-year-old server, also had a bad experience renting downtown.

She says her landlord would come into the house at any time, unannounced. If tenants had friends over, he would sometimes proclaim that he wasn’t “renting a halfway house.”

She says he would let painters and repairmen freely come and go with their own key, and he had friends in the neighbourhood who kept close tabs on her and her roommates.

“It felt like we were in prison,” she says.

“[One night] he called saying he’d received a noise complaint from the city on a night that I don’t even think we were home,” she says.

“He ended up writing us a letter of eviction for the four of us girls in the middle of winter.”

The eviction was never enforced, in part, she says, because the landlord did not answer or return their calls. He would usually only have contact with two of the tenants’ parents, who lived on the other side of the island and paid for their daughters to live in town.

Kelly Monaghan owns two rental properties. She is sure many young renters are being discriminated against.

“But I’ve found young people that I’ve rented to, for the most part, to be mature adults,” she says, adding that younger renters need to be treated with respect for the benefit of both parties.

“Young people are the lifeblood of the rental industry,” she says.

What can you do to have a healthy relationship with your landlord, and avoid getting slapped with an eviction notice? Virginia, Nicole, and Kelly agree being informed can give you a great deal of control.

“Always have a copy of the [Residential Tenancies Act] handy,” Nicole says, “and if you find some kind of behaviour inappropriate on your landlord’s part, or you feel uncomfortable, or if you feel like your privacy’s being invaded, just look through it, because it pretty much covers everything.”

Virginia recommends if you do end up with a problem landlord, make sure it’s at least put on file so the next person doesn’t have to go through the same thing.

“A lot of tenants don’t stand up for themselves,” she says. “Take the extra time.”

If your landlord doesn’t provide you with a copy of the Residential Tenancies Act, you can buy it for $5.30 (tax inc.) at the Government Services Centre, 5 Mews Place. Or, you can find it online (unofficial version) here. To talk to someone at The Residential Tenancies Division of our province, call 729-(2608, 2610, or 5829).

Tenant advice:

1. Keep a copy of the Residential Tenancies Act handy, and understand your rights and responsibilities.
2. Have a signed lease with your landlord, rather than verbal, so both of you are clear on the rental arrangements and term of lease.
3. Write down all the problems with the property as soon as you move in, and have the landlord sign that too, so you aren’t blamed for any pre-existing problems.
4. Remember that your stuff is not insured by your landlord, so get tenant’s insurance if you own anything of value (it’s pretty cheap, usually under $10/month)
5. Act professional and keep your personal life out of your relationship with your landlord (don’t have a new sob story every month for why rent is late) this way any issues that arise can be dealt with more professionally.

Tenant Resources on the Web:

1. The NL Residential Tenancies Division website
2. The Residential Tenancies Act online (unofficial version)
3. Handy brochure put out by The City of St. John’s titled “Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Tenant” (pdf)
4. Some useful links and concise information about renting in NL from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
5. A ‘Tenant’s Guide‘, put out by the provincial government