Repeat offender tenant racks up nearly $17K in unpaid rent
Quebec landlords group seeks quicker eviction hearings and right to ask for security deposit
EDITOR'S NOTE: There is an update to this story. Police say Nigel Calder, who had not been heard from since the morning of Nov. 16, was found safe in Montreal on May 4.
When Marie-Ève Ouellet-Quenneville's tenants unexpectedly ended their lease a few years ago, she scrambled to find someone new.
After placing an ad on Kijiji, she thought she'd found a great tenant in Nigel Calder.
He told her he was recently divorced and needed a place right away. Her apartment was fully furnished and included utilities and wifi.
"He was really nice and smiling," said Ouellet-Quenneville, who lives on the first floor of her four-unit building on the Plateau Mont-Royal.
She didn't do a background check on Calder.
Normally, she'd ask for the first month's rent up front before signing the lease and handing over the keys.
But Calder told her he was heading to the bank and would drop off the money later.
"I figured it was no big deal. He's going to go and come back," said Ouellet-Quenneville.
She quickly came to regret that decision. He never paid her.
"He ended up living there three months for free," said Ouellet-Quenneville.
Ouellet-Quenneville isn't the only one Calder has done this to.
CBC News discovered the Régie du Logement, Quebec's rental board, has ruled against Calder four times in the last three years for failing to pay his rent.
In each case, the landlord was granted an eviction order, and Calder was ordered to pay what he owed in back rent — a combined total of $17,000.
Perhaps to avoid detection, Calder rented apartments in a different neighbourhood each time. Ouellet-Quenneville's apartment is on the Plateau, but the rental board documents show Calder also rented apartments in Rosemont, Griffintown and Pointe–Saint-Charles.
Landlord Olivier Tremblay said initially, he also thought Calder was a good fit for the apartment Tremblay rented to him in Rosemont in October 2015.
"He appeared nice, clean and responsible," he said.
However, Tremblay didn't do any background checks on Calder, either.
Calder paid the first couple months' rent, but for the seven months that followed, Tremblay says he was constantly chasing his tenant for money.
He had various excuses: the bank was holding his funds, or he was having difficulty accessing his account, said Tremblay.
Fed up and forced to dip into his own RRSPs to cover the missing rent money, Tremblay finally went to the rental board in July 2016 to evict Calder.
"As soon as I got a date to get in front of a judge, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders," said Tremblay. "I would finally see an end to this."
A few days before the hearing, Calder gave Tremblay a cheque for the full amount he owed. The cheque still hadn't cleared by the time the case went before the rental board.
The following week, the cheque bounced, identified by Tremblay's bank as counterfeit. Tremblay followed through with the eviction.
Calder never paid back the money Tremblay was owed.
Another landlord, who CBC News has agreed not to name, said he, too, never saw a cent of the money Calder owed him in unpaid rent.
He believes Calder is taking advantage of the system the government put in place to protect tenants.
"This is not an apologetic tenant who is late on an occasional payment or lost a job and could use a little extra time," he said. "This is an egregious repeat offender."
CBC News was unable to reach Calder by phone or email.
Background checks a must
To avoid problem tenants, landlords need to do their homework, said Hans Brouillette, public affairs director for CORPIQ, which represents 25,000 Quebec property owners and managers.
Prospective tenants should be properly screened, said Brouillette.
That means checking photo identification, credit and employment history, as well as references from past landlords.
Landlords can also check past rental board decisions.
Brouillette acknowledges some landlords are uncomfortable asking for this type of information, instead relying on a gut feeling or instinct about who they rent to.
"They need to understand they are in a business, and they must do these checks very carefully," Brouillette said.
Although there are situations in which a tenant legitimately has problems making a rent payment, Brouillette said there are some tenants who purposely seek out vulnerable, inexperienced landlords to exploit.
In these cases, he said, the person may give the landlord a fake name and wrong information, knowing they likely won't be checked.
"Most experienced fraudsters are able to build up stories that would convince the majority of landlords in Quebec," said Brouillette.
Eviction process not immediate
It can be hard to get rid of tenants who don't pay their rent.
By law, landlords have to wait three weeks without being paid before they can apply to the rental board to evict a tenant.
Nearly 60 per cent of all the cases before the rental board — about 27,000 judgments a year — are linked to unpaid rent.
On average, it can take about a month and a half to get an eviction hearing.
Once the landlord is granted an eviction notice, tenants have 30 days to appeal the decision, which can drag out the process even longer.
"We have seen up to one year without paying," said Brouillette.
To make the process fairer, CORPIQ wants the government to reduce the wait time for a hearing.
Although tenants are ordered to pay the rent they owe, CORPIQ's statistics show only six per cent of landlords are able to recover their money after a favourable decision.
To improve the odds and deter non-payment, the association would also like the province to pass legislation allowing landlords to ask for a damage or security deposit.
That way, if the tenant doesn't pay the rent, the landlord can recover a portion of the money owed, Brouillette said.
No new legislation
Denis Miron, a spokesperson for the Quebec rental board, said a plan is in place to try and cut the wait for hearings.
CBC News contacted the government to find out if any legislative changes are planned which would allow Quebec landlords to collect a security deposit but did not get an answer.
That's unfortunate, said Ouellet-Quenneville, who said she felt powerless as Calder lived rent-free in her apartment building.
"Each day, I was losing money," said Ouellet-Quenneville, who was out $4,100 in rent. "It was really stressful."
Calder never showed up for the rental board hearing. He was ordered to pay what he owed her, but by then, he had disappeared.
She hired a bailiff to track him down, but realized it was probably hopeless when someone else to whom Calder owed money showed up at her apartment building looking for him a week after his eviction.
The bailiff never found Calder, and Ouellet-Quenneville never got her money back.
"It's just sad seeing someone out there profiting off people," said Ouellet-Quenneville.
She hopes she'll never have a tenant like Calder again.