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Associated Eviction Services

“TENTACLES OF EXTORTION – The Lucrative Business of Exploiting Landlords”

Since the launch of the Alberta Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) in 2006, an initiative designed to provide a more informal and less expensive means of settling residential tenancy dispute matters, the noticeable increased frequency in applications and/or counter-applications for “Abatement of Rent” partly suggests that this is often a feasible option for Tenants who have a need for relatively fast cash in exchange for very little effort and minimum, sometimes zero financial cost.

More often than not, not only is rent owed, but also providers of utilities, cell phone, cable etc. It is of course easy to evade service providers and move on to another. However, it also seems very easy to launch allegations, at times out of nowhere, very often unexpected and unsubstantiated, usually resulting in benefit or no benefit to the Tenant, while resulting in huge cost and further delayed possession of the premises to the Landlord. The Landlord is most often left feeling deceived, gullible, victimized, vulnerable and powerless and has no option but to defend a claim.

The most common allegations and claims involve pest infestation, Black mould, sewage backup, flood, loss of use of appliances, loss of personal property, unfinished renovations and “improvements” to the premises. The claim values range from two months’ rent to as much as $15,000.

Recently encountered claims and disputes range from denial that monthly periodic termination notices had been served, to lead water pipe poisoning, to emotional distress, to damage to personal property by a third party.

A case that took several months to resolve, involved a Tenant in a single-family basement suite, who when the roommate absconded, fell into rent arrears and who resorted to obvious sabotage by planting dead cockroaches (not understanding the breeding patterns of cockroaches) and of course contacted Alberta Health Services (previously Capital Health). After the Landlord gained possession of the premises through the RTDRS, the counter/cross-applications were referred to Provincial Court for trial, preceded by mandatory mediation. In short, both parties gained no monetary compensation. The Tenant was represented by highly experienced legal counsel, made available gratis courtesy of tax payers and the Landlord had to retain paid counsel to assist in preparation for at least self-representation.

Experience teaches that behaviour is somewhat predictable and small signs spell what is to come, if recognized, whether it is a minor comment passed in the heat of the moment or a major outburst filled with accusations. Rental arrears are mostly the trigger and places the person in a position where dignity has to be defended at all cost and where actions, no matter how radical, fabricated or not, have to be justified. The mindset and role of victim is assumed. A pre-meditated ill intended agenda will lead to the creation of incidents and obstacles or inclination to latch onto random occurrences.

Typical early behaviour signs that indicate possible conflict that may lead to abatement claims are avoidance; unauthorized lock change; obstruction of entry of Landlord or representatives; mild belligerence, soft accusations; mild disruptive activity; mild manipulation of fact.

Typical advanced behaviour signs that indicate possible conflict that may lead to abatement claims are accusing Landlord or representatives of illegal entry; false claims to authorities e.g. assault, pest infestation or mould; deliberate damage or sabotage, formulated accusations; severe belligerence; physical aggression; failure to correct behaviour or denial; severe disruptive activity, severe manipulation of fact, intimidation, blatant defiance.

Attempts at blackmailing by setting ultimatums and unreasonable demands may precede a legal claim.

Exposing blackmail as soon as it is detected is most often the most effective way to dispel it:

Communicate Correspond Respond

Predict Anticipate Plan

  • Foster strictly a business relationship from the start and avoid small-talk or confiding
  • Deal initially face-to-face to truly gauge insinuation, emotion and intention
  • Respond appropriately, decisively, aggressively and persistently in writing until the matter is entirely resolved
  • Appoint one designate to negotiate
  • Plan a strategy
  • Avoid verbal agreements and confirm discussions in writing
  • Take appropriate measured action that suits the defense required
  • Respond in a timely manner
  • Where feasible, attempt to end the tenancy term by mutual agreement early in conflict

Show diligence:

  • Investigate and verify the validity of complaints or allegations by inspecting and recording the condition of the premises, interviewing other tenants and neighbours
  • Monitor activity at the premises
  • Retain objective professionals and obtain reports, retain invoices
  • Adopt and rely on property management policies – e.g. appliance service/repair and replacement, routine maintenance, routine inspection for pests
  • Be pro-active by getting appropriate authorities involved a.s.a.p.
  • Cooperate with authorities and obtain written reports
  • Keep the Tenant informed of progress and relevant outcome in writing
  • Refrain from discussion of maintenance history or deficiencies, resolved or unresolved with tenants or neighbours – they may apply their understanding or misconceptions of what transpired, misjudge the current condition of the property or the effect of previous damage to property and may attempt to make it relevant or current
  • Contractors must discuss deficiencies, maintenance, and assessments only with the Landlord
  • Deliver important and sensitive notices in person and by registered mail and where possible, even ahead of the required time
  • Multiple work-orders over a period of time don’t necessarily show that a property is in disrepair. If documented properly with information containing the exact complaint, the action taken by a qualified person and follow-up written conclusions all in a timely manner, it will, together with past maintenance history and the move-in inspection report prove otherwise
  • Know and understand the value of the compensation claimed – e.g. replacement value of material goods
  • Do all you possibly can to obey the Alberta Residential Tenancies Act and aim to methodically fulfill all Landlord Covenants under Section 16.

Some Tenants will never be satisfied and will become more proficient in the process of pursuing Landlords and will simply move from one Landlord to the next. It is for the most part clear when a malicious claim is launched with the aim to extract. It is crucial to guard against subtle or blunt encouragement of Tenants to make counter-applications during any court hearing processes that is supposed to be fair and unbiased, since the danger is that it leaves an impression that it is easy money and guaranteed success.

The consolation in extortion as a means of exercising vindictiveness or financial gain is that those who choose to engage in it are in minority, that the attempts could be defeated and that some persons in position of authority have enough understanding of typical behaviour to void such ill conceived claims.

Kim Kahts specializes in Alberta evictions and residential tenancy disputes. Follow her on Twitter: Kim Kahts LandlordRX @LandlordRX

Visit Associated Eviction Services for services, practical solutions and tips for Landlords on disputes, tenant eviction, enforcement and free samples of Alberta residential tenancy forms and notices for landlords.

Associated Eviction Services (AES) offers paralegal services to local and remote Alberta real estate investors, property managers, real estate agents representing investors and building managers. We specialize in residential tenancy dispute matters within Alberta jurisdiction.


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