By Hugh Adami, Ottawa Citizen December 19, 2010
Why would anyone want to be a small landlord when there is little protection in Ontario from bad tenants?
Take Mike and Cathy Clarmo, who live in the Osgoode community of Edwards. The only way they could get a tenant to leave their rental property was with a cash payout of $3,000. And that was after 4½ years of watching the house’s resale value plummet because of their tenants’ neglect.
Their problems all started because the Clarmos couldn’t say no to an acquaintance who wanted to rent the three-bedroom bungalow they purchased in 2004. The Clarmos had just finished renovating the house when the man — a childhood friend of one of their sons — showed up at their doorstep in the spring of 2005. The couple had been planning to sell the property, which was just down the street from their home, and hoping for a $20,000-to-$25,000 profit to put toward retirement. Mike explained their plans, but the man persisted. He needed a place for his wife and children.
Mike said OK, figuring he would make some of the investment back in rent, and sell later, when the house was sure to be worth more.
Instead, cracks started appearing in their nest egg soon after the family moved in. “It broke our hearts to see the condition of the house deteriorate as it did,” says Cathy.
Probably the worst thing was that the house constantly reeked of animal urine.
The family had a dog, cat and rabbit. Drywall and floors were damaged. The garage was so cluttered that the couple was sure there was a fire risk.
Photos they took also show the front yard of the home littered with junk, including car parts such as engines and tires. The woman, who drove a school bus, damaged the eavestroughing after backing the vehicle into the house, Mike says. Rent was often late.
The Clarmos decided to sell the property after a business deal went sour. In April 2009, they gave the tenants more than two months of notice to vacate.
The tenants offered to buy the house “as is” for a reduced price. The Clarmos agreed. But the tenants couldn’t get a mortgage. The Clarmos abandoned their plan to sell after the husband approached Mike and tearfully told him he couldn’t find another house to rent.
A year later, they planned again to sell the house. But the husband, whose wife was no longer living with him, told Mike he was now well versed in tenants’ rights. He wasn’t going to move, and if Mike wanted to terminate the tenancy, he would have to go before the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Mike did so twice. He says he came away convinced that as the landlord, he was considered the bad guy.
At the first hearing, Mike spoke with a mediator, who suggested he allow his tenant to stay at the house rent-free for five months with the condition that he move by the end of this month. The man’s lawyer suggested that Mike could get him out by the end of October if he gave him a few thousand dollars on top of free rent for three months. Mike refused. He recalls the lawyer telling him that he would regret his decision as he was bound to lose the case.
Mike produced photos that he had taken of the house at the first hearing. The adjudicator joked about the one of the cluttered garage. “‘It looks like my garage,'” Mike recalls him saying. In his written decision, adjudicator Greg Joy dismisses or challenges every complaint made by the landlord.
The Clarmos found a prospective buyer for the home soon after and again applied to have the tenancy agreement terminated by Nov. 1, which was also the closing date of the sale.
The adjudicator in the second hearing reserved his decision, which allowed the tenant to stay put for at least the time being.
Mike’s lawyer suggested they give the tenant $2,000 to get out of the house. The tenant’s lawyer then came back with another figure — $3,000 — plus the demand that his client be allowed to stay until Nov. 15. Worried the board could rule in favour of the tenant and that the prospective buyers of the house would pull out of the deal, Mike agreed.
The former tenant would not return my calls.
The $3,000, which the couple feels was extortion, plus $1,400 in legal fees and $1,000 to refill the home’s oil tank are the smaller losses. The Clarmos did sell the house for $240,000 — about $25,000 more than what it cost them to buy and renovate the property in 2004. But the selling price was still a far cry from the $290,000 to $300,000 a real estate broker had told them the house would have been worth.
The Clarmos don’t know if they should be angrier with their tenants or the board.
They realize the board exists primarily to protect tenants, and with children, their tenant was bound to get even more sympathy. But, they say, their case illustrates the need for rules to protect the good landlords.