Woman wins judgment against landlord after house rented to someone else, belongings gone

A Winnipeg woman won a judgment against her former landlord after her house was rented out when she was on vacation and most of her belongings were gone.

Residential Tenancies Branch ordered landlord to pay $7,888 for lost belongings

Donna Burky won an order from the Residential Tenancies Branch requiring her former landlord to pay her $7,888 for her lost belongings. (CBC)

A Winnipeg woman won a judgment against her former landlord after her house was rented out when she was on vacation and most of her belongings were gone.

Donna Burky rented a house on Stella Avenue in June 2013, but she went on holidays for a month — one reason — to escape a bed bug problem. When she got back, the place was rented to someone else and most of her stuff was gone.

Donna Burky left the house she was renting because of a bed bug infestation

5 years ago
Donna Burky abruptly left the house she was renting because of a a bed bug infestation. When she came back from holiday a month later, someone else was living in the home and her stuff was gone. The RTB ruled the property management company owed her more than 7-thousand dollars, now the landlord is refusing to pay and the RTB can't make her. 3:15
"The first thing I thought was 'Oh my god, I can't believe she would do that,'" Burky said, of the landlord.

She filed a claim with the Manitoba Residential Tenancies Branch.

The RTB ordered Property 1 Management Ltd. to pay Burky $7,888 in November 2015 for the loss of her personal property.  Burky hasn't been able to collect the money from her former landlord.

She rented the house in June 2013 but says she started to find bed bugs soon after moving in.

"It was probably the worst experience I've been through. It's the first time I've ever seen a bed bug and I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

"They're crawling on the bed, the pillows, under the pillows," she said. "It was horrible."

Burky said the landlord sprayed the house herself but the problem persisted. She said she went on vacation in July and refused to pay that month's rent until the infestation was gone.

Donna Burky came home after a vacation and found a new tenant had moved into the house she had rented. (CBC)

New tenant moved in

After she arrived back in town, she got a big surprise when she went to the house. A new tenant had moved in.

"I knocked on the door. I could see someone in the house. But she wouldn't answer the door," Burky explained.

"Peeking in the window I could see my dining room suite in there, right, and I'm thinking, 'Like wow — where's the rest of my stuff?"

Burky said she has never had an explanation from the landlord about what happened to her belongings.

A year later, in 2014, she filed a claim with the RTB and a hearing was held in 2015.

The RTB ordered Property 1 Management to pay Burky $7,888.33 by November 30, 2015 to compensate her for the lost belongings.

In the decision the RTB said Burky "should have paid July rent before leaving on her vacation.  By not paying the rent or advising the landlord of her plans, it could be considered that the tenant abandoned the rental unit and her belongings."

What's clear from the case, though, is that even if a landlord believes a tenant has abandoned their home, the landlord cannot throw out or otherwise dispose of someone's stuff.

"In abandonment, the landlord is responsible to make an inventory of the tenant's belongings that have monetary value and to put those belongings in safe storage for 60 days," the decision said.

Landlord disputes order

The owner of Property 1 Management, Harpreet Kaur, spoke with the CBC I-Team from British Columbia and made it clear she does not intend to pay the amount owing to Burky.  

Kaur said she is no longer in the rental business in Winnipeg and intended to hire a lawyer and fight the RTB decision. She also said Burky was messy and did not keep the house clean.

Notes on file with the RTB indicated the landlord tried to contact the tenant but the phone number she had for the tenant was not in service, the decision said. "In response to this information, the tenant said she never intended to move out and never gave notice to the landlord," it said.

The landlord had until November of 2015 to appeal the decision through the branch but did not file any paperwork.
Laura Gowerluk, director of the Residential Tenancies Branch, said landlords should store a tenant's belongings if they suspect a tenant has abandoned a dwelling. (CBC)

Kaur disputes that she disposed of the tenant's belongings but said it was such a long time ago she no longer remembers what exactly happened to them.  

Laura Gowerluk, director of the Residential Tenancies Branch, told CBC News that landlords "need to store those items and be in touch with the tenant if they're able to reach them, in an effort to try and find a way of giving those belongings back to the tenant."

"Those are belongings of the tenant and so the landlord can't just take ownership of them without making a significant effort to get the belongings back to the tenant," Gowerluk said.

Can charge for storage

She added the landlord can charge the tenant a reasonable amount of money for the packing, removal and storage of personal items in such cases.

Burky sought legal advice on what she could do about the dispute.
Lawyer Carl Dalton said landlords and tenants should act in good faith while there's an unresolved dispute. (CBC)

"I wouldn't want someone else to throw out my things," said lawyer Carl Dalton.

"I would say as long as there's a dispute between the landlord and tenant, both parties should act in good faith and preserve things as well as they can. If you go ahead and start throwing out things before you're sure that it's been resolved, and that you're in the right, and legally you're doing the right thing, then I think you should try to preserve things and help out the other party with whatever difficult situation they're in."

As for Burky collecting on the outstanding judgment against Property 1 Management, Dalton said his office investigated and found there may not be assets in the company to make it worthwhile pursuing the case further.

"So our client didn't necessarily want to throw good money after bad money if potentially this judgement debtor didn't own any assets," Dalton said.

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