Was LaSalle owner taxed twice during basement survey?

The LaSalle property owner who complained about being charged for a non-existent apartment last month now believes he was double-billed him for water and garbage as well. Ioan Ruxanda now wants his money back, but so far no one from Montreal’s tax department has returned his calls.

Patricia Lowe, an agent with Montreal’s communications department, assured us he was not charged twice.

“Mr. Ruxanda is definitely not being billed twice,” she wrote in emails prior to the holidays and again last Friday. “He does not need to worry on that account. The Finance department and the LaSalle borough have worked hard to correct the misunderstanding. Mr. Ruxanda is not being billed twice. He will not be billed for the non-existent apartment. The tax account has been corrected.”

Lowe says that the employee from the tax department handling Ruxanda’s file was on vacation last week, but will call him by the end of this week to explain everything.

Ruxanda’s problems come from begin among 2000 people who were identified as possible tax evaders in a basement survey last summer. He and several of the others got their letters in the fall; others will be billed in February as the operation continues.

“Over the summer, inspectors looked at properties that might possibly house a basement apartment,” explained Lowe. “When they found what seemed to be an apartment, whether or not it had a civic address, a finance employee would call the owner for more information. If the information indicated that there was a bathroom and kitchen, or a kitchenette in the unit, only then was a letter sent out to the taxpayer.”

Ruxanda’s letter arrived with two bills in a brown envelope that made the package look like a normal tax invoice. He could either pay $280 ($140 for his own home and another $140 for the basement apartment) or he could visit the borough of LaSalle and pay $5 to sign an affidavit.

According to Salle communications officer Pierre Dupuis “since the Service des Finances started this update operation in July, we have had around 350 owner-occupants come to the LaSalle borough hall service counter to fill in an affidavit, so as to get the exemption because they use the bachelor for their own purposes.”

Ruxanda did not have a basement appartment at all, so he searched for a way to remove the charge from his account permanently. The package contained no contact name, and though it did have an email address and a fax number, it had no phone number. A phone number within the contents was always busy and couldn’t be identified by 311 operators.

After many useless phone calls, Ruxanda complained directly to Mayor Manon Barbe at the borough council meeting. He also decided to pay the $140 tax to cover water and garbage services for his own home prior to the December 19 due date.

A few days later, a borough inspector arrived to confirm that Ruxanda’s building does not have a third unit. When he asked why water and garbage taxes came in November when they’re usually sent in April, the property owner started searching for his April invoices, which he eventually found. Now Ruxanda’s waiting for an explanation.

He doesn’t think he’s alone. “If I got the same $140 bill for water and garbage service in April and then again in November, the same thing probably happened to all those other people too,” he said. “No one’s taking responsibility to make sure citizens are treated fairly.”

December 31, 2012

Resident receives extra tax bill for non-existent basement apartment

A LaSalle resident attended the borough meeting on December 3 to complain that he received a tax bill for a basement apartment that doesn’t exist.

“Thank you for the gift of this extra number 1319A, but I don’t have a basement apartment,” said Ioan Ruxanda. “My taxes doubled. Who invented this situation?”

The situation stems from an administrative desire to find people with unofficial apartments, said Mayor Manon Barbe. Officials decided to hire inspectors—some of whom were students—to travel around various neighbourhoods and find them. “We’re only discovering that this happened now as taxpayers like you complain,” she said. “You just need to visit the borough and sign an affidavit confirming that you don’t rent out a basement apartment.”

That message had already been explained to Ruxanda by borough officials, he said, but filling out that form would cost $5.

“I’m not paying $5 or anything else,” said Ruxanda. “I’m not paying anything. This is your problem. You fix it. This extra $5 fee is just theft.”

The problem may already be fixed. When Montreal’s finance department was contacted about the situation, they couldn’t find any extra bill in the resident’s property account. The only bill Montreal sent was in January 2012, and no basement apartment appears on that bill.

Meanwhile, at the borough level, officials compounded the resident’s frustration first by telling him that fixing the error would cost him $5, then by refusing to let him speak to Manon Barbe to tell her about the problem personally.

“I voted for you,” he said. “I’ve lived here for ten years and I always pay my taxes. I’ve lived in Canada for thirty years. Who is this woman who won’t let me speak to you? So I don’t have a mayor; police officers assume that I’m lying. Who’s working for me?”

Note: This article appeared in the Suburban on Wednesday, December 19.

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Evicted OMHM Tenant Appeals Rental Board’s $5 Eviction

The tenant evicted from a low-income seniors building in Lasalle, and forcibly removed as we went to press last week, asked the Court of Quebec for permission to appeal Monday, thanks to the efforts of attorney David Ghavitian.

“It’s on the eve of the holidays and they’re putting my client on the street,” said Ghavitian. “My client never even got an opportunity to present proof of payment.”

Although he’s only been on the case for less than a week, Ghavitian has already submitted an eight-page brief to the court outlining several questions about the judgement. Key among these is why the case wasn’t dropped when the tenant paid the amount due in full, including the contested $5 parking fee that served as the original grounds for eviction.

The Suburban brought the same questions directly to three OMHM leaders: directeur general Denis Quirion, directeur general adjoint a l’exploitation Michel Perreault and communications director Louise Hébert on Monday morning. All three stand behind the OMHM decision to evict this particular tenant, despite the person’s good faith in paying rent by money order or bank draft 38 times.

“This tenant had a history of paying late,” said Perreault. “Every time that happens, we have to make phone calls and send letters. Do you know how much time we have to spend in these situations?”

Yet no phone call appears in this file to ask the tenant to replace a crucial document. A Caisse Populaire money order was dated May 31, 2011 and cashed by the OMHM at the Banque Nationale on June 23. This payment, which doesn’t appear on the tenant’s computerized account, covers the entire amount specified in the rental board claim printed as part of last week’s story. Hébert and Perreault said they couldn’t find any record of this payment so The Suburban forwarded a copy of the receipt by email.

The file doesn’t indicate how the document reached the OMHM, who handled it, and whether employees held it for an unspecified amount of time before depositing it.

Perreault also said that tenants are taken to the rental board as soon as payments are delayed for any reason, but no one can do so without approval from superiors. In this case, Patrizia Del Vecchio would have sought permission from Christian Martel and Antonio Requena.

According to Quirion, the OMHM evicts tenants who have been brought to the rental board multiple times. “There’s a process we have to follow to be equitable to everyone,” he said. “There are 20,000 people waiting for a spot in these buildings, so if we have to evict 100 people or so a year, it’s reasonable.”

Meanwhile, the tenant in question faces a $1,700 moving and furniture storage bill that keeps growing daily and the frustration of looking for an apartment on a limited pension.

(This article appeared in the Suburban city edition yesterday.)

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Tenant Evicted For $5

LaSalle—A bailiff handed another eviction notice directly to a tenant at the low-cost seniors’ residence at 760 Gamelin last Tuesday. This time, the notice came with an English translation.

“Eviction notices come from the bailiff, but our policy is to send a translation with the French version,” said OMHM spokesperson Louise Hébert. “Normally, that’s the way we do things, but this time we made a mistake and so we had to correct it.”

The tenant prefers that the OMHM simply revoke the $5 claim that led to the eviction.

Since last week, the Suburban has obtained the claim form signed by OMHM representative, Patrizia Del Vecchio and submitted to the Quebec rental board on June 9. The claim covers June’s rent and a $5 unpaid parking fee in May. Since the parking fee was more than three weeks late, the tenant faced eviction.

The tenant bought a bank draft for$412 (covering the $346 plus a $66 rental hearing fee) on May 31 from the Toronto Dominion Bank, which sent it to the OMHM. It wasn’t cashed until August 15.

The tenant had receipts to prove payment in May, June and July, but didn’t attend the hearing on July 18, as we outlined in our story last week. Since then, the Suburban has obtained a 12-page copy of the OMHM official notes of telephone calls. No calls appear in June and only one entry shows for July 12. Every single entry shows calls created and modified on the same day save one. The note for July 12 was created on July 12 and modified on September 20, when Hébert says Del Vecchio added a period to one of the sentences.

A nine-page computer print-out of the tenant’s OMHM finances was obtained by the Suburban. It shows a June 28 payment on July 8, prior to the rental board hearing in July. Hébert says that the hearing wasn’t cancelled when this payment was received, because the tenant in question frequently pays late.

The financial record does show a few late payments, but it also shows advance payments.

Other than the July case, only one rental board decision has appeared against this tenant. At a hearing in February, housing officials claimed $341 in back rent. The tenant proved the account was paid in full, save for a $13 discrepancy less than three weeks old. Since then, the tenant has purchased money orders to be sent to the rental board by the bank.

Similar incidents have occurred before. Another LaSalle resident living in the 1509 Shevchenko building successfully fought eviction in August 2007 by proving that he owed only $363, which was a portion of his then current month’s rent, rather than $704 over two months as OMHM employees claimed.

The bailiff still holds an order to forcefully evict the tenant.

(This article appeared in the city edition of the Suburban yesterday.)

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Two-Day Eviction for Low-Income Senior

Lasalle—On Monday, November 28, one of the tenants in the low-income seniors building at 760 Gamelin came home to find an envelope attached the door handle with an elastic band. Inside was a one-page eviction notice in French requiring the apartment to be fully vacant by the end of today (Wednesday).

“I don’t believe it. It’s supposed to be six or seven days before the day of departure,” said Louise Hébert, the Communications Director for the Office municipal d’habitation de Montreal (OMHM). She then agreed to look into the details. Hébert also confirmed that this tenant was treated in the same way any tenant would be treated in similar circumstances. “We followed the same procedure that we always use. We cannot do whatever we want in these cases. We have to follow the official procedure.”

If this case is typical, the OMHM uses the Régie du logement du Quebec (the rental board) as a collection agency. Tenants are given little time to review documents or consult lawyers and can be convicted when absent. English-speaking tenants have no automatic right to be informed about the complicated process in their own language.

In this case, the OMHM took a unilingual English-speaking tenant to the rental board to collect a sum of $412, which included fees in arrears of $70 plus June’s rent for a total of $412. The OMHM representative also argued that the tenant had paid late four previous times and should be evicted. The tenant did not appear during the hearing, which took place on July 18. The rental board decision reflected the OMHM requests and was sent in French to both parties on July 25.

On August 15, the tenant submitted a claim to the rental board to argue that the July decision should be reversed. The tenant claimed to have received no notice about the hearing date due to being on holiday from July 8 to July 24. The tenant claim included receipts for money orders made out to the OMHM on time for May, June and July’s rent and documentation about a misunderstanding about a parking spot leading to a $5 rate plus a $66 late fee being incorrectly charged to the file.

On October 27, the appeal was heard. This time, both parties attended with lawyers. The decision, which was rendered on November 17, upholds the July decision. The administrative judge cited a belief in the OMHM testimony that that the tenant was informed by telephone on July 12 about the hearing date six days later. He also accepted the OMHM representative’s claim to have sent a written notice by post, and made it clear that such notices do not have to be registered, nor is a tenant signature required. He also questioned why the tenant waited more than fifteen days to submit a request to retract the judgement.

The tenant received the four page judgement in French from the Montreal Rental Board last Thursday.

Note: This article appeared in the city edition of the Suburban on November 30.

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Citizens Refuse Senior’s Project at Allion School

202 people signed the register for a petition held by the Borough of Lasalle on September 21 to ask for a referendum to consider the Habitation Vieux Moulin plans for a new seniors’ residence in the old Allion School at 5th Avenue and Edouard.

At their regular monthly meeting Monday night, Lasalle Borough councillors announced that, instead of holding a petition, they have set the project in its current form aside. Mayor Manon Barbe said that developers were asked to propose a new project. In answers to resident questions, she added that the borough will follow their usual resident consultation process after a new project has been submitted.

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