SUMMERSIDE – Donna Matthew thought renting a house would be useful for herself and her tenant, but she ended up getting an education in landlord-tenant relations from the school of hard knocks.
“These guys were literally burning my house down, piece by piece,” she assessed afterward.
Incensed over the way the tenants treated the house, Matthew decided to warn others through her experiences, including the post of a mocking letter of “thanks” on social media.
Matthew and her husband, William, had lived in a small house on shore property in the Summerside since the mid-1970s. Moving last November, they decided to rent the house over the winter while they decided the future of the property. They hoped to recover basic tax and maintenance costs, while doing something good for tenants in need.
Their Kijiji ad received several enquiries before some applicants showed up who played on Donna Matthew’s empathy.
“You know, a hard-luck story,” Matthews related of the two men and a woman who enquired.
She was told about an immediate need, and money woes, by one of the men, but also received promises to include value by finishing some in-progress renovations. Matthew recognized the second man, and her daughter confirmed his employment status. Matthew did not know the woman.
“We’ll treat it like it’s our own,” she summarized their approach.
Two months later, the novice landlords were faced with holes in walls, missing furniture, missing and damaged wooden trim and accessories around the house, and an education regarding landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities.
Her error in rental judgment started to become evident at the beginning of February, when she tried to collect the first full-month rent.
“Nobody collects rent on a Saturday,” Matthew says she was told by the lesser-known tenant. When she pressed for payment, she was promised that it would be available the following Monday night. Unknown to her, the renter who had substantiated employment had already vacated the situation.
Deciding she had made a bad judgment in tenant selection, she accessed an eviction notice from the website of the P.E.I. Regulatory and Appeals Commission, and served it when she returned on Monday to collect the promised rent.
What followed was a series of excuses for delay of payment. When William went to address the situation, he was insistent on authorized access and discovered the losses that went beyond rent. Donna could only conclude that the wood items had been burnt in the furnace.
She acknowledged that the rental agreement did not include heat or light payments, but she insisted that there was a small amount of oil still in the standard-size tank, as well as a few days worth of wood for the furnace. Oil was available from the major distributors as well as the nearby gas station, and she says the tenants stated they could get wood for the furnace.
As her concerns grew, Matthew approached the police for assistance, and was informed that they generally don’t get involved in such issues.
Cathy Flanagan, director of the Residential Rental Properties division of IRAC, confirmed that eviction is controlled by the Rental of Residential Property Act, and enforcement is normally handled by the sherriff.
“It’s the police’s job to prevent crime. They don’t clean up your civil problems,” she generalized.
Laying charges over damage can be difficult to arrange, and application to small claims court is necessary for compensation.
Flanagan noted that there are processes for landlord-tenant relations. IRAC can set forth a judgment for rent, but enforcing that can be difficult. It will, however, often show up on future applications made by the individual the judgment affects, sometimes Canada-wide.
Outcomes for damages through small claims court be just as difficult to recover.
One man’s renovation is another’s ruin
The tenants did paint some items, as offered, but not in a manner authorized by the landlord or useful to any other tenants. They also painted trim that Matthew specifically identified to leave wood-grained. Some trim just disappeared, and there was damage where the tenants apparently tried to remove more trim.
Eventually, the tenants did vacate, unannounced, but the Matthews faced a task to repair damage and repaint. They can apply to recover unpaid rent, but they first need to locate the tenants, and even that is no guarantee of recovery.
Flanagan noted that some tenants are very good at using the system to delay any action, and sometimes can avoid paying altogether. She added that some landlords are well versed in using the rules to their advantage.
Donna hopes for a simple solution for her simple situation.
“There should be something that a person can check,” she mused, even suggesting a need to check the references themselves.
Flanagan’s best advice is to seek advice. IRAC offers information on request and is open to meeting one-on-one or with groups to inform and educate, either at their offices in Charlottetown, Access P.E.I., or by other arrangement.
Despite the experience, the Matthews have done the repairs and accepted a new tenant with a family.
Donna is still more confident in her trust of human nature than in formal processes, but apparently also still willing to learn through experience.