November 21, 2017 9:00 am
Updated: November 22, 2017 4:13 pm

Vancouver’s Rental Reality: House-share nightmare

High-rise condominium towers crowd the False Creek shoreline of downtown Vancouver, B.C. on Tuesday, October 31, 2017.

Bayne Stanley/The Canadian Press

Vancouver’s Rental Reality is a week-long original series looking at housing in Vancouver from the renter’s perspective. From renters locked out of the property ladder to hellish landlords, renovictions and cramped living quarters we look at how renters say the city is pushing them away.

LISTEN: Vancouver’s Rental Reality – rented into servitude

Having completed her university degree in fashion design, Laura Auffray decided to move from Chilliwack to Vancouver in order to pursue a career in acting.

READ MORE: Vancouver’s Rental Realities: From mouldy co-op to mom’s basement

Now, the 28-year-old lives with a permanent disability in the Hastings-Sunrise area.

“So for me, a living space has to be somewhere peaceful, somewhere reliable, and somewhere I guess that’s not bleedingly expensive because there are times where I cannot work.”

Laura’s story is very familiar to many millennials studying and working in Vancouver.

Four years ago, she turned to Craigslist and found a room in a shared house owned by someone else.

Not knowing much about rental agreements or renter’s rights, Laura wasn’t picky and felt the place would satisfy her needs while she went to school.

WATCH: Affordable housing crisis impacts B.C. university students

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However, it quickly turned into an invasion of her privacy, and she said she felt boundaries were being crossed by the owner who also lived on the property.

“I felt like I didn’t really have any backing or legal standing in my own corner. ‘So this person owns the place that I live in, I guess I better not complain.’ Many of his behaviours, asking about my personal life, my romantic life, asking me to cook for him, clean up. It got to a point where it felt like indentured servitude.”

READ MORE: BC NDP’s ‘comprehensive’ housing strategy not coming until February

Knowing that there was no rental agreement, and because he only accepted cash under the table, she decided to move out without notice and scrambled to find another place.

“I need to leave. This man is dangerous. So I scrambled to find another place. And very luckily I found another one on Craigslist, it seemed to be a slightly better situation,” she said.

“It was sort of a panic move. I moved while he was out at work and he came home to an empty bedroom, basically, and then I moved into this other house that was also a similar setup.”

WATCH: Lack of affordable housing has forced more people to turn living in RVs

The new home was owned and occupied by a man and his 12-year-old son.

At first, she felt very welcome.

She said the owner would sometimes buy her dinner or invite her to hang out with him and his son. She felt that he was trying to make her part of the family, but things started to turn sour soon.

READ MORE: Vancouver hosts ‘Big Conversation’ to address future of affordable housing

“I realized over time it was like Children of the Corn, in that he kept really leaning on me emotionally,” she said.

“He would stand in the doorway, and that was when I started to feel physically entrapped. I don’t know if he realizes how intimidating he’s being, because it feels like he’s treating me like some sort of strange wife-daughter.”

LISTEN: Vancouver’s rental reality – from mouldy co-op to mom’s basement

Laura quickly realized that communal living, while more affordable, was not for her.

“’Communal’ implies everybody’s equal and coming together, whereas, for me, I felt a definite uneven balance of power in that it was my job to please both of these landlords,” she said.

“It was my job to smile, to be pretty, and to be quiet and to be very servile in a way. It’s like I was paying money to be their best friend.”

WATCH: Housing advocates hope premier will increase lower-cost housing

It all came to a head one day when she felt he had become too controlling.

The owner would want to know where she was going when she out with friends and would ask her to be home before 9 p.m., she said.

“I told myself, ‘If I’m just out of the house more often than not, I guess it won’t affect me too much.’ Which, I admit, looking back in retrospect, I should have cared about myself more.”

READ MORE: City of Vancouver looks to ‘reset’ housing strategy to better address affordability crunch

Laura felt trapped because she couldn’t afford to live somewhere that would allow her a sense of privacy and safety.

However, Laura’s situation has since improved, but at a price. She is paying more than double her original rent but feels much safer.

As rental prices continue to increase, Laura said her biggest concern is whether she will be able to afford her current lifestyle going forward.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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