Toronto ‘tenant from hell’ symptom of skewed system

Hold up a For Rent sign. - iStockphoto, courtesy Getty Images

The jail term for a notorious nightmare tenant represents a rare win for landlords dealing with so-called “tenants from hell.”

Nina Willis got six months in jail for defrauding two landlords, but that’s just scratching the surface of her rental history. Since 2005, she’s been evicted from seven different Toronto properties for nonpayment of rent. Like many terrible tenants, she’s an expert at stalling evictions with complaints and appeals to landlord and tenant boards.

It’s a story that repeats all across the country. From B.C. to Nova Scotia, landlords deal with damaged properties, thousands of dollars in lost rent and a system widely perceived as biased towards the tenant.

The judge in Willis’s case noted that tenants seem to hold the advantage these days.

“There was a time, I think, in our society when landlords abused tenants,” he said. “(But that) may have swung in favour of the tenant for a time.

“There must be a levelling of the playing field between landlords and tenants and the system, which is there for the benefit of each, should not be abused.”

Of course, there’s no shortage of bad landlords out there as well, and tenants need protection. The problem is how serial fraudsters can manipulate the system and enjoy the same protection as legitimate renters.

Laws and dispute systems vary according to province. A common theme with bad tenants though, is that that can delay evictions by filing appeals or making trumped-up complaints about repairs or other problems.

In B.C., “powerless” landlords called for reforms of the appeal system.

Landlords and even some politicians in several provinces have pushed for tougher laws and even registries of bad tenants.

Barring any changes though, the best step for landlords is prevention. Thorough screening of prospective tenants is vital.

That means more than just calling a tenant’s listed references. In many cases, bad tenants will list fake references and employers. Also, calling a tenant’s current landlord may not yield an honest evaluation, since that landlord may just be trying to get rid of their problem.

Some independent homework is worth the time. Credit checks, online searches and even some social-media digging could paint a more complete picture of an applicant.

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