Skip to content

Living Situation: 'Thom' works as a house manager for free rent

Photo Contributed This is the second article in V.I.A’s series looking at how people in the Lower Mainland are dealing with high housing costs.

 Photo ContributedPhoto Contributed

This is the second article in V.I.A’s series looking at how people in the Lower Mainland are dealing with high housing costs. 

Thom is originally from Australia but has been in Vancouver for over two years and currently lives in an East Van shared house.

The homeowners have a series of sister houses that are set up for international students and people coming to Vancouver from other countries for work or internships.

Thom says these houses provide "a built in social circle" and help people avoid dealing with "the absolute shitstorm" that is finding a place to rent in the city.

He had been living in the house for about a year and took over the job of house manager when it became available. His experience living in a big share houses in Australia, with "anywhere between eight and 14 people," was part of the reason the landlords chose him to take on the responsibility.

The share house in Australia, "was really huge old house that they were eventually going to knock down. As long as we maintained the place and looked after it they didn't really mind so much what was going on there. We took that as an opportunity to just treat it as a good space that people could be comfortable in."

"I was [managing the house] in Australia already except I wasn't getting any compensation. I was just doing it because someone needed to do it otherwise the house would have fallen to shit," he says.

The house manager logs issues with maintenance, performs minor maintenance duties, ensures that occupants pay their rent on time and interviews new renters. He also cleans the house and prepares the rooms before new people move into the place. The house manager receives a reduction in their rent as payment for the work.

"I didn't want to move into the usual room which is like the bigger expensive one upstairs because I quite like my basement space. As a result of that, the way that the rent ended up balancing out means that I don't pay anything," says Thom.

There are currently nine people living in the house and they've had renters from England, Ireland, Germany, France, Ecuador and Peru. He knows moving to Vancouver from a different country and trying to find a good place to rent be a struggle. "I was trying to find houses that had good people in them as well as being kind of affordable. Some of the places that I went and looked at were just horrifying. I'm fairly sure that a lot of the stuff I saw was illegal."

He's lived in apartments and is not a fan of the "thin walls" allowing people to hear their neighbours, "but what other options do you have aside from living all the way out or moving to a different city?"

Thom has a job on top of his house managing duties and coworkers sometimes mention how much rent they pay. "I'm just like Jesus, yeah it's a lot. You would pay roughly the same amount for rent in Melbourne as you would here except the minimum wage in Australia is double what it is in Canada so it sort of balances out differently."

The renters market in Vancouver is tighter than the one in Melbourne, he says and "people seem a lot more stressed out about it here." The timing of the year also makes a difference. He once tried to move before the school semester was going to start and noticed that there were a lot more people coming in from overseas at that time. The number of ads he responded to that ended up being scams increased by about two-thirds.

"I was getting to the point where I just couldn't look at an ad anymore without just assuming that I would get two emails into a conversation and have someone say: 'oh yeah but I'm traveling with my husband or wife in South Africa at the moment on a mission and if you just send us some money we'll post you the keys.' I'm just like oh for f--k's sake this is like the 300th time that this has happened to me."

He's no stranger to the challenges that people coming from overseas face and now helps them settle into a new city by renting a room in a well-managed shared house.

What’s your living situation? Email to share your story.