The Quiet Agony of the Landlord

For property owners in BC, it’s hard to stay in the game.
By Jackie Wong, Today, Tyee Solutions Society

It’s been about two decades since Calvin and his wife Sarah started earning an income as landlords. They live in Richmond and rent out a four-unit Burnaby duplex, renting the two-bedroom, 850-square-foot units for $875 a month downstairs and $1,000 a month upstairs. “I would say each unit can be rented for $25 to $50 higher, but I prefer to charge good tenants a little less than market rent,” Calvin says.

His tenants’ quality of life and safety are important to him, he adds. He’s spent many weekends maintaining the 60-year-old building. “We spent a lot of money updating it so it looks and functions newer than [its age]. In fact, parts of it are nicer than what I have in my own home,” he says. Both a carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector can be found in each suite, something most landlords don’t provide, he notes. “I try to provide decent living units where I personally wouldn’t mind living myself. I also try to put myself in the tenants’ shoes.”

Calvin works full-time as an accountant. He never aspired nor expected to become a landlord. But Sarah had purchased the building before they were married. “She lived at home with her family until she was in her 30s and spent her salary on mortgage payment for the rental property,” he explains. “She got into it because other family members invested in real estate and she was regularly reminded that real estate is a good investment versus, say, stocks.”

Calvin sees landlording as one way to diversify his investment portfolio. But after going through three arbitrations at B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) over the last six years, his enthusiasm for landlording is wearing thin. He’s still embroiled in his most recent dispute with the RTB. Not wanting to prejudice his case with the arbitrators, he asked The Tyee Solutions Society not to publish his real name.

“I am amazed,” he says, “at how biased the DROs [the dispute-resolution officers who run landlord-tenant hearings] were in favour of the tenants. With all the hassles I have been experiencing, I have also been thinking of selling and getting out [of landlording] entirely. The hassles are due to unreasonable and irrational tenants, as well as the RTB.”

He knows there would be consequences to selling the building at this stage. He gets along well with three of the four tenant households in the duplex. He thinks they’ll be “sad” if he quits his job as a landlord.