Nfld. & Labrador

Landlord left with dirty needles, garbage, storage bill after struggling to evict tenants

Matt Doyle is out thousands in rent and stuck with a mess of needles, garbage and questionable merchandise after a tenant dispute.

Matt Doyle says he hasn't been paid rent since January, but eviction took months

Matt Doyle found lots of evidence of drug use after he finally got the tenants out of his basement apartment. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Matt Doyle surveys the damage of his rental property with caution.

Treading lightly, he makes his way past a mattress laid against the kitchen wall.

He edges around a baby's changing table in the middle of the room and past assorted aerosol cans near the sink.

Down the hallway, he ducks under the dangling wires of a disconnected smoke detector and into the bedroom.

It will cost Matt Doyle thousands of dollars to clean up the apartment, and more to keep his former tenants' possessions in storage for 60 days, as required by law. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

With each measured step, Doyle is careful not to stick his foot with a dirty needle.

"The condition of this apartment is terrible," he said. "And now I've got to be responsible to clean this up."

Apartment in shambles

On Friday, Doyle's four-month battle was over — sheriffs came and turned possession of the apartment back to its owner.

The tenants were not home, but a locksmith changed the locks to complete the eviction.

Homeowner's nightmare: Tenants leave biohazard mess after eviction struggle

6 years ago
Duration 2:18
A landlord spent three months trying to evict his drug-addled tenants in Paradise, after they did left a mess in his basement apartment.

He knew the place would be in shambles, but still, Doyle was floored.

Needles — dozens of them — are strewn across the small, two-bedroom apartment. They rest on the floor, on the bedside tables and stuffed inside a pop bottle near an overflowing garbage can.

On the coffee table, there's an empty pill capsule with the residue of a white powder still dusted across the wooden surface.

A pop bottle near a garbage can is filled with syringes. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Various items around the apartment, coupled with social media posts, indicate the tenants are parents to a newborn daughter. The child did not live in the apartment full time.

It should have been so easy to evict them, Doyle says — in more profane language — as he looks around.

But the process was much harder than he ever could have imagined.

"The hurdles?" he laughs. "It just goes on forever."

A lengthy process

Doyle served the tenants with an eviction notice on Dec. 31, when the male resident came to pay rent.

He had been an adequate tenant for nearly three years, but had been barrelling down a slippery slope in recent months, Doyle said.

The drugs, the noise, the late payments — it was too much. It was time for them to leave.

Under the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord must give a tenant three months' notice of an eviction to find a new place and move out.

An empty capsule sits on the coffee table, with powdered residue scattered around. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

After giving the notice, things spiralled.

The noise increased and the mess intensified. The upstairs tenants, with a young family of their own, became scared of the people living downstairs, Doyle said.

He began exploring other methods of evicting the downstairs tenants.

The process can be sped up when a tenant is more than 15 days past due on rent. They can also be evicted more quickly when causing danger or disruption for other tenants or neighbours.

Doyle served them notices for both reasons. They fought back, however, launching an official dispute.

Once a dispute is filed, tenants and landlords enter into a lengthy flowchart of procedures, beginning with either mediation or a hearing.

A flowchart at Service NL shows the process to follow once a dispute is made official. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Doyle and his tenants ended up travelling down both sides of the chart — first with mediation, then with a hearing.

Between each step in the chart, there are avenues for delays. For example, either side has seven days to appeal an order, and then another 15 days to notify their opponent of the appeal.

Even when the officer presiding over the hearing makes a final order, a new appeal can start the entire process over again.

Once an order reaches the Sheriff's Office, eviction usually takes place within 72 hours.

A final resolution — sort of

On Friday, sheriff's officers showed up with a locksmith.

The locks on the Paradise home were changed and possession of the apartment was finally returned to Doyle.

But the debacle doesn't end there.

The tenants were then granted 72 hours to retrieve their possessions — including clothing, several large TVs and dozens of hats hidden in the kitchen cupboards with tags still attached.

Three shelves in the kitchen are filled with hats, brand new with tags still on. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

That timeframe expired Monday evening and the tenants did not return.

It is now Doyle's responsibility to safely store all the tenants' belongings — including a car and motorcycle — at his own expense.

"If they leave it, it should be garbage," Doyle said. "It don't make sense. Why should I have to store someone's crap for 60 days at my cost? It just don't make sense at all."

If he disposes of their possessions, he could face legal action from the newly evicted tenants.

Changes needed, homeowner says

Changes are needed to the Residential Tenancies Act, Doyle said, allowing landlords to evict problem tenants faster.

He believes there should be a search system at Service NL where landlords can find out if a prospective tenant has been a problem for others in the past.

While his tenants had not paid rent since January, they were able to buy enough time to cause him thousands of dollars in damage.

A smoke detector is ripped from the ceiling in the hallway. In the bedroom, a plastic bag was taped over the air exchange, blocking the flow of smoke to the upstairs tenants. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Doyle's first estimate puts the cost of repairs at $5,800, excluding the cost to remove the needles, which are biohazardous waste, from the apartment.

"Who's gonna want to come in here and help me pick up needles off the floor?" he said.

"I have to pay someone to take it out and pay someone to store it, because someone chose to live this way and cost me thousands of dollars."


Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.