A family of three claim they have been illegally ejected from their home and after going through the motions and due process, are left with an ‘I.O.U.’ of over $22,000 and $7,000 in legal fees.
Sheri Thorsen, her daughter and her husband rented a house in Gordon Head on Teakwood Road for three years happily until their landlords decided to sell the house.
Thorsen grew up in the house next door which her 73-year-old mother still lived in, so it was important for her to remain nearby to help her out.
The owners of the house were family friends of Thorsen’s as well, so they expressed their intention of finding a new owner who wanted to keep the property available as a rental.
Thorsen said the new owner of the house Cathy Ma had her realtor, Jackie Ngai, tell the tenants and former owners that Ma didn’t speak any English, but the realtor did all the talking for her. Thorsen would later find out that Ma could speak English through the hearing that would come in this dispute.
“It was 2021 and the housing market was going crazy, right,” Thorsen told Victoria Buzz. “There was tons of interest and I think the house sold right away.”
Thorsen said some people came through to view the house, they put an offer in and the owners accepted the offer, cancelling several other viewings that were booked.
“They cancelled those other viewings because they said, ‘this is a win-win for everybody — these are investors that are looking for a house to buy as an investment and they said they would keep you as renters,” she explained.
“My mom was thrilled because it was next door and in COVID I was doing a lot of shopping for her.”
In June of 2021, the situation turned on its heels and Thorsen received a two-months notice that she and her family would have to vacate the property.
“In July we found a place to move into and so I turned around and gave them the 10-day notice that we were leaving,” Thorson told Victoria Buzz.
Because she grew up in the house next door, Thorsen said she had a lot of people keeping an eye on the house, including her mother.
“We noticed there was very little activity for a little while and my mom noticed that construction started to happen,” she explained. “They ended up turning what was a three-bedroom upstairs and a bachelor lower — they kept the upstairs the same but turned the lower-floor into a four-bedroom rental.”
Thorsen says by December of 2021, the basement rental unit was posted online, which was suspicious to her because it mentioned in the advertisement that the upstairs was already rented out.
“When I noticed that, I was like, not only did they not move in, but they’re renting it now and it hasn’t even been six months,” Thorsen recalled.
According to the Residential Tenancy Act, if someone is evicted from their rental home with only two-months notice, the owner of that home is required to make it their primary residence for at least six months.
In January of 2022, a complaint was formally made to the Residential Tenancy Board (RTB), because Ma had violated the Residential Tenancy Act.
Due to Ma’s infraction, Thorsen went after her for what she was entitled to, which is one year’s rent plus the fee it costs to raise a claim through the RTB.
Thorsen’s family paid $1,830 per month, so one year’s rent plus the claim fee came out to $22,060.
A hearing was held in August of 2022, and Thorsen’s family won the hearing because Ma could not prove that she had lived there for the six month period she claimed to have been there. Despite the win, the Thorsens never received any compensation from Ma.
Ma provided Victoria Buzz with an agreement that she had drawn up and signed by herself and Sheri Thorsen which she thought would negate her responsibilities to the Residential Tenancy Act by which she is bound.
The RTB came to the decision that the agreement was an attempt at avoiding the Act and could not be used as evidence in the hearing.
Ma reached out to the RTB in October of 2022 to try to get a review of the case done, which was denied and still, no compensation was received.
By November 2022, Ma hired a lawyer who served Thorsen with papers that informed her of her former landlord’s intention to take the matter before the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Thorsen says she ‘lawyered up’ because Ma’s documents were over 100 pages and she could not decipher them.
“I started to panic, so I hired myself a lawyer,” Thorsen said. “In December I acquired a lawyer and helped me to respond.”
The hearing took place in March of this year at the Supreme Court in Vancouver.
“March 30th of 2023, we received a written decision from the judge that we had won that case as well,” Thorsen said. “So I have sent more letters to [Ma] requesting funds and she’s not even responding to my emails or anything anymore.”
Thorsen is only partially correct in this claim. The Supreme Court did not overturn the RTB’s initial decision in the final decision. Instead, Ma was given allowance to apply for another review of the claim which was denied to her in October 2022 with new evidence.
Ma says this is not the end of the road for her. She is insistent on fighting this decision further. She told Victoria Buzz she will not pay Thorsen until she has exhausted every avenue of overturning the RTB’s initial decision.
All said and done, the Supreme Court endeavour cost Thorsen $7,000 out of pocket, while Ma claims to have spent over $17,000 on her legal fees.
Because Ma hasn’t paid Thorsen, a lien was put on the house as a way to make sure the debt is paid.
Thorsen says because of the lien on the house in her name, the only thing she can think of to do in order to get the money she’s owed is to force the sale of the house, but that would cost her more in lawyers fees.
“We got through the RTB decisions and you’re like, ‘okay great,’ and then nothing and when I reach out to them I’m like, ‘can you help me enforce this,’ and they say no,” Thorsen explained.
“It just feels weird that there’s a governing body that can help you get to a certain point but once you win the case, there’s no help anymore.”
“Even with going to the Supreme Court… It’s just not fair,” she added.
Thorsen says she feels stuck now and wants to pursue the money but the task of getting what she’s owed has been so arduous that she’s not sure if she’ll ever get it unless she invests further in the situation.
Ma says she won’t give up either, claiming she did indeed live in the unit and the agreement she and Thorsen signed should have been the end of any dispute.
According to Ma, her lawyers have already applied for another review and she is waiting to hear back from the RTB on the matter.