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Council takes on ‘scum’ landlords

Tenants have resources and help, says council



By Alison Taylor

Councillor Ralph Forsyth has a pointed message for landlords gouging new workers with exorbitant rents and cramming them into bedrooms.

“You are the scum of the earth,” he said as cameras rolled at Monday’s council meeting, expressing his “vehement opposition” to their strategy for paying their mortgages.

“What we need to do is find the gougers and run them out of town,” he added later.

His message to newcomers is quite the opposite.

“The community cares and we want to do something about it.”

Council backed up Forsyth’s passionate appeal Monday night with a promise of help. If tenants make the call and turn in an errant landlord, they will not be homeless on the streets.

“We want the kids to know if they turn their landlord in and they get kicked out, we’re going to find (them) a place, somehow,” said Forsyth.

The message comes on the heels of Saturday’s hugely successful Welcome Week dinner which brought hundreds of newcomers and residents together to break bread and learn a little about the resort community.

Local businesswoman Linda Marshall hosted a table at the dinner. She was eating with three young Brits who had to leave early to see about a place for rent. The deal: $600 per bed with three beds in the room.

“I was really appalled,” said Marshall, who approached Forsyth with the story. “I thought that stuff had stopped.

“I’ve lived in Whistler for 22 years so I’ve heard my share of horror stories.”

It is against the Fire Code to have any more than two people per bedroom.

If you’re in a living situation with several people sharing one room, you should be concerned about your own safety, said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

A few notorious cases of workers crammed into rooms by the dozen have made headlines in the past. Many more have gone on undetected. The bad experiences run the gamut from homes that have the potential to sleep 70 people, such as a house in Brio that the fire department investigated in 2002, to the landlords who want thousands of dollars upfront in cash.

Newcomer Dana Salsbury, who came to Whistler almost a month ago, has been frustrated by her experience looking for a place this fall.

She came here from Kingston, Ontario in early October with her boyfriend and a friend. They found a place for rent in the back of Pique Newsmagazine, checked it out online and called the landlord — $2,400 per month for a three bedroom. A far cry from the $525 per month deal she had in Kingston for a two-bedroom place but this is Whistler at the beginning of the season after all; there is a premium to lay your head down here and Salsbury knew that.

When they got there the pictures online were a far cry from reality — the furnished three-bedroom place had a couch, chair and a table and little more. They decided against the Brio townhouse because they needed a furnished place.

Two weeks went by. They were still looking and the townhouse was still in the paper. On the next visit the landlord asked for three months rent in advance plus half a month’s rent for a damage deposit, citing bad experiences in the past with tenants who have run out on the lease. The grand total was $8,400 upfront — cash.

When they asked for an eight-month lease the price jumped to more than $10,000.

“Who comes to Whistler… with $10,000 ready to put down in a rental?” asked Salsbury.

“I knew it was more expensive to live here… but I had no idea it was going to be this much of a struggle to get a house.”

They finally found a place in Alpine Meadows.

Landlords can only legally demand the first month’s rent, plus half a month’s rent for security deposit, said Whistler Housing Authority general manager Marla Zucht. The problem, she said, is that people get desperate.

Zucht also hosted a table at Saturday’s dinner where two young women were looking at paying $1,000 each to share a room.

There are resources available for tenants who find themselves in unsafe and unethical situations. Among the resources council listed at Monday’s meeting were:

• Renting Landlord-Tenant Information, 1-800-665-8779

• The Residential Tenancy Office, 1-800-665-1185

• The Whistler Survival Guide, available at municipal hall and around town, and

• The Whistler Housing Authority,

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