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News - All - 14 Mar 2019
News Item 47 of 4566
Miscellaneous: 14 Mar 2019
KITCHENER — One of Canada's largest residential landlords and the country's biggest collections agency are accused of using excessive pressure to force former tenants into paying bills they insist they don't owe.
Debt collectors crossed the line chasing bills they insist they never owed, Kitchener tenants say
CAPREIT, a Toronto-based residential investment trust, operates more than 30,000 rental units across the country including three rental complexes in Waterloo Region. It often uses Excel Suite Collections to chase down delinquent debts.
The problem — according two separate formal complaints with the consumer protection branch of the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services from Waterloo Region residents — is that some tenants are sent to collections when they don't owe anything, and get hounded by aggressive, persistent debt collectors who refuse to go away.
Kitchener's Chris and Jinah Allen spent the past month fighting with Excel Suite Collections over $1,232 worth of rent they consistently said they don't owe. After being contacted by The Record, CAPRIET admitted the couple was put into collections in error.
The Allens vacated a townhouse at 265 Lawrence Ave. in Kitchener in August 2017 after giving 56 days notice. They say the property manager gave them a final inspection and waived the 60-day termination requirement, since the unit was already rented for the following month.
More than 18 months later, they got a call from Excel — demanding they pay $1,232 within 24 hours for failing to provide 60 days notice. If they didn't, CAPREIT would be advised to sue them, they were told.
"He wanted the money to be paid the same day, by 4 p.m." Chris Allen said. "He said 'If you don't pay this, it's going to destroy your credit. So you need to pay it'. It was the first time we'd heard anything about it."
Allen believes the company's behaviour broke several rules in the Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act, a law that Ontario uses to regulate the province's debt collectors.
Debt collections agencies are required by law to contact consumers in writing before calling them. They also can't threaten to garnish wages or contact employers — something the Allens say an Excel agent did this week in repeated phone calls.
In an email sent Wednesday afternoon, CAPREIT said the Allens were accidentally put into collections as the result of an accounting error.
"In between two sets of tenants in the unit in question, our accounting system mistakenly charged rent owing. We will be apologizing to the residents directly and ensuring there is no impact on any credit. Our team is working now on correcting this error so it does not happen again," said Trish MacPherson, the company's executive vice-president of operations.
Kitchener's Brenda McGoldrick-Leavitt, who rented a unit at 55 William St. in Waterloo until March 2017, said she grew so frustrated at being pursued by bill collectors she finally paid to replace a stove she says she knows she didn't damage.
When she was initially contacted, an Excel debt collector told her she owed a month's rent. When she challenged that, the agent quickly told McGoldrick-Leavitt she needed to pay $750 to replace the appliance.
She filed a complaint over the matter, and says she's going public because she believes there are other tenants like her.
"I just wanted them to stop. The whole thing was really frustrating," McGoldrick-Leavitt said. "Once it goes to collections, no one believes you."
For McGoldrick-Leavitt's complaint, CAPREIT blamed the damage to the stove on her son. She disputes this, and says there was no damage when she left the unit. The company couldn't provide her with a receipt for a new stove, but showed a cropped photo of a damaged stove as apparent proof.
"If the stove was really damaged, why didn't they pick up the phone and call me? It's almost like they throw stuff out there, and see what sticks," she said. "I'd love to get my money back, but I know that's not going to happen."
Al O'Halligan, the company's local site manager, said he had no idea about the complaints and referred calls to the company's head office.
Excel, which bills itself as the largest property management litigation and debt recovery firm in Canada, refused to comment on the allegations.
"We don't talk to newspapers and we don't talk to reporters," said Steve Chadee, a manager at Suite Excel Collections Canada.
The Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act bans the use of "undue, excessive or unreasonable pressure" and requires bill collectors provide written notice through the mail before calling — something that did not appear to happen in either case.
The Allens allege the company used threatening, intimidating and coercive language to harass them repeatedly over the past month.
Chris Allen says one Excel agent told him "things happen" when asked why he wasn't contacted at any point in the past year and a half. That same agent told Jinah Allen, who is Korean, "welcome to Canada" when he left her an aggressive voice mail.
The Allens are also angry that CAPREIT passed along their private information to the collection agency, including social insurance numbers, drivers licence numbers and employment information.
The Allens provided a letter from their new landlord, who had contacted CAPREIT about the tenants to check their references. She backed their story up, and said everything was above board when they left 265 Lawrence in Aug. 2017.
The Allens' complaint offers a revealing look at the lengths some debt collectors will go to when pursuing a claim. One of Excel's agents allegedly called Allen's phone four times while he was at his teaching job Wednesday morning.
Allen said he's angry an accounting error could cause he and his wife to become the target of unrelenting pressure from a collections agency.
They're still pursuing their complaint against Excel, and want more people to be aware of their rights when contacted by a debt collection agency.
"This has been a horribly stressful experience," he said. "What they've put us through, it's been unimaginable."
Greg Mercer Waterloo Region Record/AA
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