Toronto landlord forced to refinance condo as COVID-19 stalls eviction of lawyer owing $16K in rent
Lawyer Christopher Roper stopped paying rent with 3 previous landlords
Danish Chagani was excited when the lawyer who lived down the hall from his Toronto condo wanted to rent his unit after Chagani bought a house for his young family.
But the first-time landlord says the feeling was short-lived — and about $16,500 in unpaid rent has left him strapped for cash to make his mortgage payments.
Within a few months of moving into the fully furnished downtown condo in November 2018, tenant Christopher Roper's cheques started to bounce and come in late, Chagani says.
"It's been a mess," the landlord told CBC Toronto. "He looked like someone who wouldn't have an issue paying his rent."
Chagani argues his situation, and that of some of Roper's previous landlords, illustrates how a tenant who knows the system can take advantage of the lengthy process at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to delay eviction, and live rent-free.
And now there's no end in sight for the soon-to-be father of two. His LTB eviction proceeding against Roper — like most evictions across Ontario — has been suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Even once this is all over, I don't know when I'll have my day in court," Chagani said, referring to an existing backlog at the tribunal.
"Financially, I don't know how long I can continue to support him."
Chagani refinanced his condo this week to cover the cost of two mortgages without the help of $2,700 a month in rent.
In an email to CBC Toronto, Roper declined to comment for this story, stating it would not be appropriate given his case with Chagani is still before the LTB.
Tenant stopped paying rent to previous landlords
The lack of rent is particularly frustrating for Chagani since he discovered Roper has had problems with previous landlords, including a condo owner in Chagani's building, just a couple of doors down from his unit.
"When I heard the stories of the past, I was floored," Chagani said. "It just matched what I was going through perfectly."
Chagani describes the previous landlord's dealings with Roper as "messy" and says she's still trying to get back the rent she lost.
At least two other landlords have had trouble with Roper within the last decade.
In both cases, they took Roper to the LTB looking for an eviction after the immigration lawyer failed to pay thousands in arrears, according to court documents.
Roper lived 'rent-free for another 10 months' before appeal
The landlords got eviction orders, but then Roper appealed the tribunal decisions to Divisional Court.
In one case, the appeal meant that Roper was able to "reside in the property rent-free for another 10 months" because the eviction was ordered in December 2012 and the appeal wasn't heard until October 2013, according to the decision dismissing the appeal.
Roper's former landlord from that appeal has an active writ of execution — a kind of judicial enforcement order — against Roper for more than $7,300 the lawyer owes from a court judgment.
When I heard the stories of the past, I was floored.- Danish Chagani
Chagani thinks holes in the tribunal system make it possible for cases like this to keep happening.
"Unfortunately, there are people out there that know the law, they know the process and they know its deficiencies," he said. "And knowing the deficiencies puts them in a position to really take advantage of it."
Chagani hoped he could finally put this all behind him when Roper failed to comply with a conditional eviction order issued in January, by not making payments toward his arrears. The LTB then ordered the lawyer to leave the condo by March 1.
Law society case against Roper ongoing
But Roper filed a motion for a stay on that eviction order on the basis that the payment plan he'd suggested no longer worked because a Law Society of Ontario (LSO) regulatory proceeding against him was taking longer than he expected.
Roper wrote in his motion that he hadn't been able to allocate "sufficient time to [his] practice so as to generate the anticipated revenue" because he was preparing for the LSO proceeding. The lawyer then said he would be able to suggest another plan for paying his arrears at a new tribunal hearing.
The LSO proceeding against Roper concerns several allegations, including that the immigration lawyer deposited thousands of dollars received in trust from three clients to his firm's general account, and withdrew some, or all, of the funds before performing services or billing for them.
The immigration lawyer also allegedly threatened to sue one of his clients, and charge them more fees, if they took their complaints to the LSO. The self-governing body for lawyers has yet to rule on the allegations and the regulatory proceeding against Roper is ongoing.
Roper's motion for a stay on the eviction order was granted in late February, and the board set a new hearing date for early April.
"It's surprising. It's almost as if no one really looks at these requests," said Chagani. "How can someone accumulate thousands and thousands of dollars in back rent and still be allowed to stay?"
The April hearing was suspended indefinitely — along with essentially all other Ontario eviction-related hearings — in March because of the pandemic. Right now the tribunal says it is only processing eviction applications that involve an "urgent issue such as an illegal act or serious impairment of safety."
'The system is broken'
Chagani says he understands that we're in an unprecedented time, but that the issues with his tenant long-preceded COVID-19.
"The system is broken, and you know what? It's broken both ways," he said, referring to problems tenants have getting concerns with their landlords addressed at the LTB as well.
Ontario's ombudsman launched an investigation into delays at the tribunal in January.
The Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) argues the system needs to be improved, and the LTB needs more adjudicators so that both landlords and tenants aren't left waiting for months.
There's an added layer of difficulty in situations where someone might be "gaming the system," FRPO president Tony Irwin says.
"There is no registry; there's no system for people to go to understand if someone that they want to rent to is this kind of person," he told CBC Toronto.
With files from Farrah Merali