Man who ran Airbnbs in rented houses takes owners to court claiming multimillion-dollar loss
Tong 'Heintz' Sun says there's 'nothing extraordinary' about his multiple lawsuits
A Metro Vancouver man who claims to run a lucrative short-term rental business with about a dozen properties in B.C. is being accused of fraud as he continues to pile up lawsuits over failed listings, claiming millions of dollars in damages.
Tong "Heintz" Sun has filed claims against the owners of at least three homes he says he leased with the intention of listing them on sites like Airbnb.
The three listings floundered for a variety of reasons, including poor reviews from guests and bylaw infractions, according to documents filed in B.C. Supreme and provincial courts. Sun claims his landlords are responsible for the losses he's suffered as a result.
The owner of one of the properties has filed a counterclaim accusing Sun and his mother Lijun Zhao of fraud and providing "fake" evidence, allegations that Sun has denied in court filings.
Meanwhile, he's locked in another legal battle over the loss of a van he leased to help with his short-term rental business, at the same time he's facing multiple criminal charges in the Lower Mainland.
In an email to CBC, Sun says there is "nothing extraordinary" about his legal fights over his Airbnb listings, writing that "overall I don't find my list of issues very newsworthy and I also dislike publicity."
One lawsuit has already backfired, ending with Sun ordered to pay $550 in legal expenses. He had tried to hold the owners of a Burnaby house legally responsible for his losses when they terminated his lease in response to a warning from the city about Sun running a short-term rental business without a licence.
Sun said he does not agree with the judge's decision to dismiss his claim, but it's not worth the cost to appeal.
"I mentioned to the judge that I was not operating without a licence a chemical plant or an industrial site at the residential facility. My short term rental was very much a residential undertaking," Sun wrote in his email to CBC.
'Experienced and skilled operators of family inns'
The financial stakes are much higher in Sun's other legal battles. One lawsuit filed by Sun and Zhao claims damages of more than $11 million against the owners and operators of a two-bedroom apartment in Marpole.
In that claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court in December 2018, Sun and Zhao describe themselves as "experienced and skilled operators of family inns." He has claimed to operate between 10 and 15 short-term rental properties in B.C.
Sun and Zhao allege the owners are to blame for a state of disrepair at the building that led to so many complaints from guests, Airbnb shut down their account, according to the 2018 claim. They allege the loss of their Airbnb account cost them $23,000 a month in revenue from a separate listing in Richmond.
Owner Hang Zhang has countered with allegations that he leased the apartment on the understanding Zhao would live there and advertise the other bedroom on Airbnb, in accordance with Vancouver bylaws on short-term rentals that say it's only legal to rent out rooms in a primary residence.
"It is clear that Zhao and Sun are working on fraud because all the information or evidence they provided are fake," Zhang alleges in a counterclaim, filed in September 2019.
Zhang writes that the owner of the Richmond home where Zhao and Sun say they were earning $23,000 a month has signed an affidavit saying he evicted Sun and Zhao in 2016 — long before their Airbnb account was closed.
Zhang claims the pair advertised space for 13 people to sleep in the two-bedroom apartment he leased to them, and says the suite attracted numerous complaints from neighbours about noise, dogs, excessive drinking and cannabis smoke.
Sun stands by his evidence in his response to Zhang. The allegations in both the claim and the counterclaim have yet to be proven in court, and the case has been set for trial beginning in May 2021.
A third lawsuit, filed in February, claims more than $500,000 in damages against the owners of a Shaughnessy mansion that Sun says he and his mother were unable to rent out on Airbnb because the landlord abruptly cancelled the new lease when the previous tenants decided to stay for longer than intended.
The landlord has filed a response saying that B.C. Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over tenancy issues. If the case goes ahead, the landlord argues Sun and Zhao's plan for his property violated Vancouver bylaws on short-term rentals as well as the lease agreement.
None of the allegations in Sun's lawsuit or the landlord's response have been proven in court.
Sun has questions about his criminal charges
Meanwhile, Sun is also awaiting trial on criminal charges of mischief, theft under $5,000, dangerous driving and wilfully resisting or obstructing a peace officer, all allegedly committed earlier this year, according to records listed on Court Services Online.
Sun told CBC he's not sure what the charges are about.
"I am still trying to see if they were filed on the wrong person or if the charges are not appropriate for the circumstances," he wrote.
However, it appears the mischief and dangerous driving charges may relate to allegations laid out in a counterclaim filed by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Canada earlier this month in B.C. Supreme Court.
That document alleges the Vancouver Police Department confiscated a Mercedes-Benz van that Sun was leasing after Sun "deliberately broke a number of vehicle windows at one or more auto dealerships and then fled from the VPD in the vehicle" in April 2020.
The company says it has taken the vehicle back and now considers Sun and his father, who cosigned the lease, to have defaulted. Mercedes-Benz is asking for Sun to pay back the remaining balance.
In his response to the counterclaim, Sun has denied allegations that he broke any windows. He is also suing the financing company, alleging the van was used for his short-term rental business and its loss has cost him $1 million in business.
None of the allegations in Sun's claim or the company's counterclaim have been proven in court.