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Nightmare tenants scare off rookie landlord in Sudbury

A first-time landlord in Sudbury is confident there won’t be a second time after a hellish experience cost him not just money but his health.

“You couldn’t ask me to rent again for all the money in the world,” said Merle Smith on Thursday. “If two camels pulled up on Dec. 24 and it’s Mary and Joseph, and they want to have the baby Jesus born in my house, I would say: ‘Nope, find another inn because I’m not renting to anybody.’ ”

The retired Sudbury Star printer began renting out his four-bedroom house in Minnow Lake about five years ago, after a heart attack forced him to move, along with wife Carla, into a smaller abode that didn’t require as much stair-climbing.

The young couple he took on as tenants seemed nice at first, he said, and reliably paid the rent for about two years. Then the payments started to come later and later and finally dried up altogether. 

Meanwhile, junk was piling up in the yard, the house was getting wrecked, and a process Smith initiated to have the couple evicted was stalled by a backlog of cases at the Landlord and Tenant Board.

The landlord finally got a hearing in November and was able to evict the tenants this week.

The victory is bittersweet, however, as Smith is still short more than $14,000 in missed rent and the damage to the house is even worse than he expected.

“It’s a relief to get them out, except when you go over there and see what’s left,” he said. “I’m Irish and we never shed a tear, but I came home last night and cried for an hour because of what they’ve done to my home.”

He and Carla spent more than $100,000 to renovate the house, which had originally belonged to her parents. One of the last projects, which Smith presented as an anniversary gift for his wife, was to completely remodel the kitchen.

When he re-entered the house this week, he found smashed cupboards, punctured walls, and garbage was strewn everywhere. A toilet was full of excrement, and the furnace is on the fritz because an air vent got plugged.

“To walk into something you worked so hard on and see that,” he said. “What kind of person does that to anybody?”

An appraiser had earlier pegged damage to the house in the range of $25,000 to $30,000, Smith said, but he expects it will cost much more now to fix it up, based on the more recent destruction he witnessed this week.

His goal is to be compensated for both the property damage and rent arrears, although he is skeptical he will get back all the money he is owed.

“I know one landlady whose tenants were found guilty and she was owed a year-and-a-half’s rent, plus damages,” he said. “That was three years ago and would you believe to this day she hasn’t seen one red cent. Every cheque bounced.”

Still, the retiree is determined to pursue redress through the Landlord and Tenant Board and whatever additional legal avenue may be required.

“I will take it to hell and back if I have to,” he said. “I won’t allow them to get away with it to do it to somebody else.”

Smith describes the pair who bilked him for rent and caused him so much stress over the past couple of years as “professional tenants,” in the sense that “they know how to work the system and go from one place to the next.”

The saddest part, he said, is that these “scam artists” are scaring landlords away from being in the business and stealing opportunities from people who truly deserve a roof over their heads.

“Who is getting hurt in this?” he said. “It’s the poor, desperate people who do need affordable housing.”

Smith said his health declined significantly over the past year due to the financial and emotional pressures brought on by his deadbeat renters.

The 71-year-old didn’t sleep well from January on and developed pains in his chest. In July, he had to undergo open-heart surgery. If that wasn’t bad enough, he got an infection in his leg while hospitalized.

“I couldn’t walk for five weeks and it’s still not healed,” he said.

He hopes his health will improve now that he’s free of the tenants, although challenges still remain.

“I’m going to have to see if I can borrow money now to fix up the house, but there’s so much damage that there is no equity in it,” he said. “So I’m looking at cancelling insurance and cashing in RRSPs to fix it.”

In retrospect, Smith wishes he had joined the Greater Sudbury Landlord Association before renting out his house, as the advice he later obtained through this group would have helped him avoid the “nightmare” he experienced.

“The president, Ray Goulet, is very knowledgeable, and all these landlords talk among each other, so you have a better idea of what you are getting into and how to vet tenants,” he said.

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Sav S

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