A Maple Ridge man is warning homeowners to take care over property management firms, after his house was left in a state of horrific disrepair by a tenant already known to have a criminal history.
Mostafa Said was awarded $25,000, the maximum possible, in small claims court this month, for damage done to his home by Sherri Fontaine, a tenant chosen by Homelife Classic Realty Ltd. on his behalf while his family was abroad.
The property management firm, which shortly afterwards changed its name to Meadow Ridge Classic Realty, was found to be "grossly negligent" by Judge T.S. Woods, who said the firm failed to do even the most basic checks on Fontaine.
- Read the full court judgement describing the damage in detail
- On mobile? Click here for a photogallery of the damage to Said's home
Said and his family left their home in December 2005 to embark on a year-long dream vacation to Egypt, but says he returned to a nightmare out of a horror movie.
"[There were] dog feces in the fridge...stains everywhere...doors with big holes... the plumbing was in disrepair," Said told the CBC.
"A simple check would have give the property manager like a hint."
CBC story reveals criminal record
Said says he hired the property management company specifically because of fears about bad tenants, but according to Woods, Meadow Ridge failed to even Google search Fontaine.
Had they done such a search, the judge said, they would have discovered a CBC story revealing Fontaine's criminal record and drug history when her three-year-old son was mauled to death by dogs in a previous residence.
As reported by the CBC in 2004, Fontaine's three children were taken away by B.C. authorities after their sibling was killed. She also had a history of drug possession and trafficking, had served jail time and was barred from owning firearms.
Fontaine declared very little on her tenancy application form and left many of the boxes blank, providing no information on her employers, banking information and credit card details. She did declare owning a pit bull terrier, however.
Despite this, Fontaine, two other adults, three children under 10 years old and others, described in court documents as her "entourage," moved into the home in February 2006.
According to court documents, Fontaine's first rent cheque for $1,495 bounced, she reported a rat infestation and offered little co-operation when informed in advance of sporadic visits from the property management company.
Fontaine carried out renovations to the house without permission, replacing floors, carpets and the toilet, painting walls and bricks, clearing the backyard of plants, partially replacing the backyard deck and installing fencing.
"When she was finished, the family home was barely habitable," said Woods in his decision.
In addition, during her tenancy, according to Woods' decision, Fontaine appears to have sublet individual rooms to transient subtenants, adding private locks to bedroom doors to provide individual units.
The state of disrepair even forced the District of Maple Ridge to inspect the home, where they reported finding an accumulation of tires, metal, bike parts and three unlicensed vehicles.
Ordered to remove the items, Fontaine fled the house in January 2007, leaving the home in what court documents describe as a "deplorable condition" and without paying her outstanding rent.
Said described the home as "trashed" and says his neighbours were extremely angry with him over the questionable nature of the activities taking place in the house in his absence.
In his judgment, Woods described Fontaine as a "grossly unsatisfactory and unsuitable" tenant.
"When vetting prospective tenants, property managers must properly be held to a comparatively high standard of diligence.
"I am fully satisfied that, cumulatively, Meadow Ridge's various breaches as revealed in the evidence...constitute gross negligence."
Still more repairs to be done
Said, whose first language is not English, could not afford a lawyer and represented himself in court without any legal training.
"I'm a simple family man who entrusted the care of my home to a professional property manager," reads Said's testimony.
"I returned home and it was a complete nightmare - the house was in disrepair and so much damage was done."
Said says he had to spend at least $20,000 of his own money and then $50,000 of his time repairing the home to make it habitable.
Since returning, Said also says he has received mail addressed to at least 15 different people, presumably from Fontaine's many subtenants.
Woods awarded Said the maximum possible in small claims court. Now Said faces the prospect of finishing repairs to his home.
"I don't have enough to repair everything that's been damaged, but I am so happy and thankful that I won."