Kijiji rental turned into 'complete nightmare' for tenants
Renters allege property owners tricked renters out of thousands of dollars
Once described as a Christian faith-based retreat, a Nova Scotia property now advertised on Kijiji as a "beautiful country spot" for rent has turned into a "complete nightmare" for a stream of tenants who allege they were swindled out of thousands of dollars.
The most recent ad to rent 471 Vault Rd. in Kingston, N.S., was placed April 26 and says the "5 Acres Horse Hobby Farm Century Home" is available for $1,250 a month.
"We are very selective in tenants as we have had horrible tenants," reads the ad, which features a handful of blurry interior photos.
But CBC News spoke to several people who say it was the other way around, and that their rental experiences went from dream to disaster in short order.
CBC News made several attempts to reach Lisa Smith, a former corporal in the Canadian Forces and the owner of the property, but she did not respond.
Not as advertised
In February, Jessica Blakeney answered the ad, figuring it would be the perfect home for her, her husband, their four young children and her mother-in-law.
"It was a complete nightmare," she told CBC News.
Blakeney said she contacted Lisa Smith and was given the phone number for Smith's husband, Steve.
Steve is known to use both his surname of Dorey and his wife's surname.
Blakeney said she went to the house with Steve Smith and saw it was only three bedrooms, not four as advertised. She also said the house was cold and a pipe was broken. The living room walls had been redone recently, leaving a mess.
She said Smith told her it would all be cleaned and repaired before she moved in. She later paid him the first month's rent and damage deposit and got him to sign a receipt.
But when her family moved in on a Saturday, the house was still a cold mess. On Monday, Blakeney said the family got a visit from two men "claiming that we were squatters and had been there a few months and hadn't paid any rent and that Steve had sent them to collect the rent."
CBC News could not confirm if the men were acting on Smith's instructions.
Requests for rent advances
She showed them the receipt and emails with the Smiths, proving she hadn't been there for months, and the men left.
The problems continued in March, when Blakeney said the Smiths started asking her for April's rent, which wasn't due for weeks.
Later, one of the two men who had previously called on them returned to ask about the April rent. He left, but the trouble didn't. Nova Scotia Power turned up to disconnect the power.
The last straw came on April 1.
'It's another thing when my husband starts to worry'
"We had a big, 240-pound man show up at our door and said that we'd been there for three months and that we owed three grand in rent and that if we didn't pay the rent within three weeks, he was going to come back the following week with new tenants," Blakeney said.
"It's one thing for me to worry about my safety, but it's another thing when my husband starts to worry for our safety."
Blakeney and her family moved out the next day. She posted an ad on Kijiji warning people off the property and said she's heard from others with similar experience. She lost about $3,000 herself in the ordeal. CBC News has seen emails from several people reporting similar experiences.
Lord's Ranch Ministry
The property has a strange backstory.
A 2012 edition of the Aurora, a newspaper for 14 Wing Greenwood in the Annapolis Valley, featured a profile on Lisa Smith.
It described Smith as a Canadian Forces corporal posted to the base while studying divinity at Acadia University. (The Department of National Defence told CBC that Smith was a corporal at the time, but confirmed she is no longer with the Canadian Forces.)
The article says she opened The Lord's Ranch Ministry at 471 Vault Rd. to help people "develop a relationship with God through hands-on horse care." A website for the retreat is still online and lists Smith as the contact person.
She owns the business, but none of the three listed phone numbers works. Other attempts to contact Smith by phone, email and Facebook got no reply.
Similar attempts were made to contact Steve Smith, with no success. CBC knocked on the door of the Vault Road property and another home owned by Lisa Smith, but no one answered.
Known to police
Sgt. Terry Miller of Annapolis District RCMP said the property is known to police and that there have been multiple complaints, though he wouldn't give details.
"We have received a complaint regarding that particular piece of property but our investigation deemed that the complaint was civil in nature," he told CBC News.
A few weeks after Blakeney left with her family, Amy Murphy found the same ideal-looking ad and got in touch with Lisa Smith. Murphy told CBC News she met with Steve Smith in Kentville.
"I paid him $1,250 and he wrote me a receipt," she said.
She prepared to move into the house ahead of the weekend, but wasn't given a key. Murphy said Smith promised to get the power hooked up, but didn't.
"On Monday, we were finally able to get ahold of him. I told him I didn't want to move in — that he was not being straightforward with me," she said.
House still available to rent
Murphy tried to get her money back, but claimed Lisa Smith denied receiving it.
"She told me the house was hers and I couldn't move into it," Murphy said.
She didn't move in and hasn't gotten her money back. Murphy talked to police and they advised her to go to the tenancy board. She has a hearing set up for mid-May.
Murphy said she created a throwaway email account in the meantime and inquired about the property — and found herself once more invited to rent the farm.
As of Friday, the house was still listed for rent on Kijiji or as a possible rent-to-own for $185,000 "firm" with a $5,000 down payment.
With files from John Mazerolle