Rental Fraud in Nova Scotia
This is the full story, as summarized by CBC, The Canadian Press, and CBC again when the serial rental fraudsters finally moved out.
I know Nova Scotia has a housing crisis, and that’s why when I became a landlord, I decided I wanted to help, especially the people who are most marginalized. When I bought my Dartmouth rental property in June this year, I made sure to advertise it as pet-friendly because I know how hard it is for pet-lovers to find rentals. I also prioritized applicants who had some kind of story of higher need. I went into this with the best intentions, yet I was targeted by people who preyed upon me.
When I met my 2 current tenants, they had 2 cats, 1 dog, and a tragic story of difficult life circumstances. When my tenants shared that they have bad credit because of mistakes they made in their 20s, and they said they’re trying to fix their credit, I decided to waive the credit check and be that person who gives people a second chance in life and the benefit of the doubt. After all, I wanted to help the marginalized people and I wanted to help them live in a rental where they could keep their pets.
They gave me a cheque for rent for June, post-dated cheques for the rest of the year, and a damage deposit cheque. In return, I gave them the keys to the unit. Five days later, the cheques bounced, and my heart dropped. I soon realized that everything was a lie. I took a closer look at the application and recognized several lies. I looked closer at paystubs and saw signs that they were likely falsified. I called their landlord references again and realized those were just friends pretending to be landlords. I questioned them about their claims of things like the tragic life circumstances and employment info, and realized they faked everything — even their sob story.
I called the Residential Tenancies Board to ask how I can immediately evict the tenants. I assumed that our lease must obviously be void, as any contract would be when it is left unfulfilled. I didn’t even get a damage deposit! I was told that tenants are allowed to be late on the first month’s rent. Even though they had not held up their part of the initial agreement that would make them valid tenants, still the system considers them to be my tenants and I was told I had to evict them through the Residential Tenancies process.
So as soon as the Residential Tenancies policies permitted, which was 15 days after the start date of the lease, I served my tenants a Form D. That form indicates that the tenants need to pay their rent or move out by the end of 15 more days. Unfortunately, they did not move out by the 15th day. Instead, they sent me a screenshot of the Form K and smugly told me that I have to serve that one out next. The message was clear: They had no intention of paying rent, and no intention of moving out willingly.
The Form K is an application for a tenancy officer to give a Director’s Order, requiring tenants to vacate. When I completed that form, I was told I would get the Director’s Order in 1–2 weeks. But the assigned tenancy officer went on vacation, and the Residential Tenancies Board has nothing in place to make sure duties are covered by other employees when someone is absent, so it took 3 weeks to get the order, not 1–2 weeks. Imagine if a doctor went on vacation while working on a hospital unit, and nobody else took over care of that doctor’s patients and they were left unattended until she came back. That’s not acceptable. So why is it acceptable for nobody to cover a tenancy officer’s absence? When I did get the Director’s Order, it allowed the tenants an extra 2 weeks to move out, with 10 days to file an appeal before the deadline.
In the meantime, I had joined a Facebook Landlords group to ask for advice on getting through this whole process. I found out that these particular tenants have a long history of doing this — for more than 10 years, wreaking havoc from rental to rental where they didn’t pay rent, they caused lots of damages, and then they disappeared in such a way that even the sheriff and collection agencies couldn’t collect the arrears from them. People compared them to Nadav Even-Har. So I read through articles on Nadav Even-Har and I was disappointed to see that the exact situation that should have been nipped in the bud a couple years ago, is continuing to happen today despite promises from the Minister of Service Nova Scotia for change. And my tenants are not an isolated case, apparently. According to other landlords that I met, this is a rampant problem in this province, that is left completely unaddressed.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of confronting my tenants about their scam. They retaliated and became aggressive. They used profanities when talking to me, raised their voices, and insulted me by calling me things like “idiotic and insane”. They caused significant damages to my unit, estimating in the thousands of dollars to repair it all. They called the police with frivolous false reports to try to get me charged for things I did not do. They threatened me on multiple occasions, even giving me a death threat.
I called the police and reported everything.
When I reported several signs of fraud to the Financial Crimes Unit, they told me it’s not fraud per the criminal code because the issues are covered under the Residential Tenancies Act, so the police has no right to get involved. I pressed and asked for them to investigate based on a long history of these tenants doing this. I showed evidence of false pretenses and uttering forged documents and pointed out that their behaviour is similar to Nadav Even-Har. They were not interested. They didn’t even request verification from the bank to find out if the cheques were written from a closed account, which I suspect they were. In fact, the Financial Crimes Unit stated that it is a landlord’s responsibility to do her due diligence in screening tenants in order to not get scammed. Now, when a bank gets robbed, do police tell the bank that they should have had better security measures? No, police arrest the robbers. But if a landlord gets robbed, the police stance seems to be that it is the landlord’s fault, because police are not permitted to get involved in Residential Tenancies matters.
When I reported the willful destruction of property in the unit, the police told me that again, unless damages became extreme, I would have to take up any damages with the Residential Tenancies Board for ordered payment and enforcement of penalties. That’s because again, police are not permitted to get involved in any tenancies matters.
When I reported the death threat, the police pointed out that I had admitted that I had turned my back and started walking away from the tenant when she uttered the threat. Therefore, they said that she could have been saying it to anyone else in the hall, or to her dog, or to her partner in the home. Although I was alone in the hallway with the tenant at the time, and the threat was uttered shortly after I had just served her a tenancies form, police were not planning to pursue the charge.
I also reported abuse of the pets based on some things I had witnessed on multiple occasions, based on neighbour concerns, and based on historical concerns from other people who reached out to me about these tenants on Facebook. By the time the SPCA special constable showed up, these tenants had cleaned up their act to look good for the animal welfare check and the special constable had no choice but to close the case.
Essentially, nobody did anything to help. This is how apparent career criminals get away with what they do: because they are not recognized as committing a crime. The police even said that I cannot be referred to as a “crime victim”, but simply as a “complainant”, because no crime has happened.
Nonetheless, I had hoped the nightmare would end on August 10, the date that the Director’s Order required my tenants to vacate. Unfortunately, they appealed it. They wrote on their appeal that the reason for the appeal was because they had nowhere to go until September 1. This is not appropriate legal grounds for an appeal; legal grounds would involve challenging the Director’s Order as incorrect in some way, while using me for free rent is an abuse of process. But it was processed anyway. So because public housing provided by the government is lacking, apparently I, an everyday citizen, must foot the bill.
When we attended the pre-hearing on August 15, I requested that the adjudicator dismiss the appeal based on the clear fact of abuse of process to obtain free rent. He told me that unfortunately, a pre-hearing exists only to discuss logistics for the actual hearing such as witnesses and evidence, and that he would not be able to dismiss the appeal yet for that reason. Even though the facts were clear that my tenants had been scamming me since June, and they had not paid a single penny, I had to wait until the actual hearing on August 31 to have an adjudicator dismiss their appeal. Thankfully, the adjudicator provided a Court Order immediately and the tenants vacated in 2 days. However, sometimes adjudicators take a while to deliberate before providing a Court Order. Sometimes that Court Order allows an extra 2 weeks for the tenants to vacate. And only a Court Order gives a landlord the right to call the Sheriff so that there can finally be enforcement to remove squatters. So although these people moved in this June, and have not paid me a penny, they had free housing at my expense from June until September 2, 2022. Now that I know their history, I know I can expect to never see the rental arrears that they owe me; it is just a rise in my debt load with nothing to show for it. We had a hearing on September 14, 2022, to discuss the rental arrears, and the tenancy officer issued Director’s Orders requiring that I be paid the $5500 that I was owed for 3 months of rent. I never saw that money. At the end of that hearing, the tenant gave me another verbal death threat, bold enough to state it right in front of the tenancy officer during a formal hearing.
In order to try to effect change in this broken system, I reached out to several political parties. I reached out to the Minister of Service Nova Scotia to ask about how a penalty in the Residential Tenancies Act gets enforced. That is section 23 for disregarding Director’s Orders and Court Orders, which gives a summary conviction and a $1000 fine to offenders. Many other landlords told me their stories of disregarded orders for paying arrears and vacating, with no enforcement. Imagine if every serial rent fraudster received a $1000 fine for not following orders to pay rental arrears or vacate — this issue would be nipped in the bud, especially if they were not able to renew their driver’s license until their fine to the province was repaid. Clearly, this penalty is important. Unfortunately, I was given misinformation by an employee of the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and after much asking around, I realized that nobody appears to enforce that penalty whatsoever. I also reached out to the Premier and received no response. I reached out to my current and former MLA, who asked me to draft a letter about this problem and have as many landlords sign it as possible, which I did through this Change.org petition. As a result, the Liberals drafted a bill for enforcing the Residential Tenancies Act, and they brought this bill forward to the House of Assembly sitting in fall 2022. Whether or not these efforts will see fruition remains to be seen.
I was so distressed in the summer of 2022 that I was unable to focus on much else, because I dealt with fraud, destruction of property, aggression, death threats, and the financial and emotional impact of it all, while trapped in a broken system that does little, if anything, to protect me. This became a full-time job for me. I was on a leave of absence from my studies, and I couldn’t focus enough to return to my studies until the squatters left my property and I fixed up the thousands of dollars in damages that they caused. That is time that I cannot get back, time that I was unable to help the public while working as a postgraduate trainee in my field. These criminals, and the system that enables their behaviour, did not just steal from me. They stole from anyone who needs a doctor.
But the bigger issue is the fact that rental fraud, and the broken system that does nothing to nip this in the bud, leads many landlords to become jaded and distrusting. Why give people second chances in life when it will lead to being defrauded — and then being victim-blamed for being a nice person? If we’ll be told we should have known better than to give the benefit of the doubt, then why give the benefit of the doubt at all? This is why most landlords expect perfect tenants, with perfect credit, and this makes it hard for honest tenants who are not quite perfect. This is also a reason for the artificial inflation of rents in this province. When a small-time landlord gets defrauded, and the fraudsters get away with never paying what is owed, how else can a landlord make ends meet without either raising the rent or quitting the landlord business and selling the property? The fewer landlords there are, the more expensive rentals will become due to supply/demand issues. The government cannot keep turning a blind eye and letting scammers use landlords as temporary public housing, because the more landlords quit, the greater the need will be for public housing.
Most landlords are afraid of coming forward about this entrenched issue. I find that a lot of people seem to hate landlords, especially in this province, because they view them as greedy rich people. I am by no means rich at this point in my life. I grew up in a lower income family and worked very hard throughout my life to improve my means. I am currently a postgraduate trainee, I still pay tuition, and I do not earn a 6-figure salary. I am not yet a rags to riches story, but I am working on it. My entrepreneurial spirit led me to buy a rental property, because I expected rental income to help me with finances. As a responsible and reliable person with excellent credit, I qualified for a mortgage and I used my line of credit for the down payment. I bought this property with zero equity and dreams of helping marginalized people with pets, while also helping myself; win-win for all. I was hoping the rent would cover the cost of the mortgage and the monthly line of credit interest. Instead, my line of credit debt has increased because these people never paid their rent while I was still required to pay the mortgage and condo fees.
This whole ordeal gives me doubts about even living in Nova Scotia at all. When I first moved here from BC for postgraduate studies, I had planned on staying here after school and setting up a practice. But after the way I have been treated in my time in Nova Scotia, I have significant doubts. I am grateful that the police finally arrested the female squatter for her death threats, but it did take 4 months and I am not yet sure if it will lead to a conviction and prison sentence for her. I do not want to live in a province where I can be bullied — by tenants or anyone else — and nobody enforces consequences to deter that behaviour from continuing. I want to live in a province where these kinds of issues are nipped in the bud by proactive leadership, where justice is served upon offenders of any kind of wrongdoing, and where the victims are not blamed for getting conned.