Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seize or Sue

I pause for a moment and then type the final sentence of my letter. “Accordingly, we consider this matter concluded, and trust that Ms. Wong will not be contacted again.”

That’s lawyer talk for “get lost.”

Yesterday Linda Wong contacted us because some lawyer, from Ontario of all places, had sent her a letter about a car loan. It seems that in happier times Linda and her husband, Randy, went to a car dealership in Victoria and purchased a big shiny SUV which they could just barely afford, thanks to vendor financing. They signed a “Conditional Sales Agreement” which was filed against the vehicle in the provincial government’s Personal Property Registry.

Then, about six months ago Linda and Randy separated, and found that they could no longer afford the payments. Linda took the bull by the horns and contacted the dealership to explain the situation, and by agreement the dealership repossessed the vehicle. Linda and Randy weren’t happy about it, but they were nonetheless relieved to the matter put behind them.

So or they thought. A few days ago, Linda got a letter from “Mr. Ronald Jaggers, Esq.,” a lawyer from Toronto, telling her that after the SUV was resold and various fees and penalties were taken into account, there was $15,000 still owing on the purchase agreement. Mr. Jaggers’ letter went on to threaten to file a lawsuit unless “satisfactory arrangements for payment” were made within 14 days.

This sent Linda into overdrive. She had been assured by the dealership that everything was resolved and she and Randy could walk away from the deal. Intimidated by the fact that there was a lawyer now involved, she figured she’d better get some legal advice before responding to the letter, so she went to the legal aid website where she found our number.

In our phone conversation, I confirmed with Linda that this was indeed a purchase agreement, not a leasing arrangement, and asked her to fax us a copy of it, along with a copy of Mr. Jaggers’ letter. After reviewing these, I phoned her back, and explained to her that the part of the problem here may be the fact that Mr. Jaggers does not understand BC law.

In BC, a seller who repossesses a vehicle because the buyer doesn’t make the payments cannot also sue the buyer for any balance owing under the purchase agreement. The seller can either repossess the vehicle or let the purchaser keep the vehicle and sue him or her for payment. In other words, the seller must “seize or sue.” Maybe in Ontario things are different. But the dealership took the vehicle, and that’s the end of the matter.

Linda gratefully accepted my offer to write to Mr. Jaggers to explain all this, so I did, and that should be the end of the matter.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"We're Being Evicted!"

“We’re being evicted!” Olga exclaims indignantly.

Sometimes they get right to the point. I quickly get a thumbnail sketch of the caller’s situation, both the background and the current crisis point she’s facing.

About five years ago, Olga and her husband, Nigel, moved into their cozy, one-bedroom apartment in the West End of Vancouver. At first things were pretty good. It’s a nice quiet building, and they made friends with many of the neighbours. The live-in caretaker, Dick, seemed a little odd, but pleasant enough.

Dick’s attitude towards them seemed to change, though, soon after their three-month old son, Aidan, was born. Since then Dick has been hassling them about Aidan’s crying, which is supposedly bothering him and some of the other tenants. This puzzled them because Aidan is a good-tempered boy, and no one else has ever raised such a concern with them. Dick commented that perhaps they should think about moving to a more “family-oriented place,” which also puzzled them as there are other families with children in the building.

Then earlier today while Nigel was at work, Dick came to the door and handed her an eviction notice. Strangely, this document, entitled “One Month Notice to End Tenancy for Cause,” doesn’t mention anything about crying or noise. Instead it states the cause for eviction as “tenant has allowed an unreasonable number of occupants in the suite.” “Your lease says just two people,” said Dick over his shoulder as he walked away.

Olga hasn’t even been able to talk to Nigel yet. She saw that the Notice gave a website address for Residential Tenancy Office (, and had a look at the site. She understands that she can dispute the eviction by filing an “Application for Dispute Resolution” no later than ten days from now. But she wonders if there is any point in doing so. She checked the lease, and it does say that the number of occupants is “under no circumstances to exceed two.”

She absolutely should dispute the eviction notice, I say.

Just because the lease stipulates a two-person limit doesn’t mean that having a higher number is necessarily unreasonable and therefore grounds for eviction. In the case of Olga and her family, having two adults and one baby in a one bedroom apartment is probably fine. We’re aware of cases where tenants have succeeded on having eviction notices cancelled in similar circumstances.
Also, I add, the family may want to consider filing a complaint under the B.C. Human Rights Code, as it is illegal for a landlord (or a landlord’s agent) to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of family status. A person must file his or her complaint within six months of the alleged contravention, and can ask for various remedies, including a cease and desist order and monetary compensation.

This is all a lot to absorb, she says.

Mainly, she’s concerned about not being evicted; she’s not sure if she wants to get into something like a lawsuit. She’ll talk it over with Nigel this evening. Would it be possible for her to call me back? Will she have to wait in the phone queue again, or can she get my direct line?

We don’t give out direct locals, but I arrange to call her back tomorrow to see where they want to go with the human rights issue. In the meantime, I remind her of the ten day deadline for filing the application to dispute the eviction.