Problem tenant? 10-4! We’ve got you covered. This week, former police officer and President of Canadian Tenant Inspections Services, Jim Garnett, joins Adam & Matt to talk stake-outs, best landlord practices, and sure-fire ways to avoid conflict. As a former RCMP (drug enforcement) and landlord himself, Jim shares his ground-breaking pro-tips for interviewing, screening, and choosing the best tenants while making sure you are protected throughout. You won’t need a bullet-proof vest for this ride-along, but be sure to bring your notebook and pen, ya nerd. Roger that! Over and out.
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Who is Jim Garnett?
Jim Garnett is the President of Canadian Tenant Inspection (CTI) Services. I arrived in BC in 1974 with the RCMP and worked with them for 26 years and then another 15 years with the transit police. All to train for what I do today with CTI Services.
What does CTI Services do?
We inspect rental units on behalf of landlords and property managers. We ensure tenants are safe and there are no health or safety issues with them or their unit.
Our primary focus is the inspections. We also serve documents for landlords, participate in arbitration, and interview. Our end goal is to highlight lease compliance issues for the landlord. We want to ensure tenants are complying with their lease. Our inspection also validates the landlord’s insurance. Most insurance companies require landlords to have inspections and most landlords have no idea this is a requirement. When you have a claim on your insurance, the insurance company needs to know you’re doing your due diligence.
But you’re not property managers?
Absolutely not. We get mistaken for property managers but that’s not our goal. They have their own process and function and we have a different set.
How did you get into real estate?
I was a landlord in the mid 80’s and working with someone interested in investment real estate. I invested in a revenue property and continued with several other properties. 12 years ago, I was managing some properties for a friend’s estate and had a conversation with a property manager. The property manager was looking for someone to do inspections for the units in her portfolio. And that’s how I got introduced to that job function. I realized basically I had been training for 40 years to do this. A lot of the skills I used as a police officer are skills I use now. It was a natural fit. That’s when we decided to expand and take on other clients. We only use retired police officers to do the job since they have the skills, and just need to learn the Residential Tenancy Act.
What skills do police officers bring to the table?
Observing and reporting are key. Conducting interviews, serving documents, giving evidence at arbitration, and neutralizing volatile situations such as when landlords need to supervise stress move-outs. The lens we’re looking through is a bit different than an average person’s lens. We pick up on those nuances while we do our inspections.
When are you brought in? Do landlords just bring you in when things get complicated?
We work with a lot of proactive landlords who hire us to do regular inspections. We become familiar with the tenants and the property and can note any changes. On the other hand, we have landlords who call us when they’re underwater with their tenants. They call us when they need help and we can help them sort out whatever issues there are. We can get them to a certain point but when it gets to a higher level, we recommend they get counsel.
What makes a good tenant? What are the biggest misses?
One of the biggest misses I’ve found is landlords saying, “If they can afford to pay this much, they’ll be a good tenant.” That has nothing to do with it. The landlord needs to be on their toes to ensure their property is being looked after.
Every tenant is different. Some tenants treat a property like it is their own – neat, tidy and well looked after. Others look like the place has been vandalized. Everyone is different and feels a different responsibility to being a tenant. A landlord would expect the place to look somewhat presentable but that doesn’t happen in all cases. The landlord needs to be paying close attention.
As a landlord, when you make a real estate investment, it’s going to be expensive. Just like you’d look after your stock portfolio, you need to do the same with real estate. Go into it as a business – whether it’s one property or 100. It needs to be looked after properly.
What does it mean to look after a property properly? Is it about vetting a tenant upfront or an on-going relationship?
It’s both. When tenants are vetted at the application stage, the landlord needs to do their due diligence. One domain I point people to is Court Services Online where you can search by name to see if a person has been involved in any civil actions. I look for any enforcement legislated entries, which indicates they may have had an eviction.
For example, there’s a woman who lives in Richmond with four children that has had 15 writs of possession issued in the last five years. So that tells me she hasn’t paid rent in the last five years. She targets unsuspecting landlords and approaches them mid-month, when they are desperate to get their place rented. She bounces the first month and security deposit cheques and it takes landlords a few months to evict her. I expect she will be charged one day. If any of her landlords had gone to Court Services Online, they would have known to run away.
One other tool that is currently evolving is Landlord Credit Bureau. It is across North America and gathers information from landlords about tenant payment information into a database. So a tenant’s record can follow them as they move.
On the timeline of evictions:
We’ve found if the landlord does all their paperwork up front, it shortens the process. In BC, if you don’t pay on the first of the month, the landlord can give you a 10 day notice form on the 2nd. That gives you 5 days to pay your rent or 5 days to move. That starts the process. Through a direct request process, you can shorten the 6-8 weeks to get to arbitration to just 7-10 days.
All of that can only happen if the paperwork is in order. Too often I’ve seen tenancy agreements that are not signed by both parties or with information that is missing. So if you apply for a direct request, they’ll push you to arbitration because the paperwork isn’t in order. After arbitration, it will take 3-30 days to get a decision. If it’s an order of possession, that gives the tenant two days to move out. If they don’t, you are then in line to get a bailiff to get a writ of possession. But there are things landlords can do to expedite this.
How do landlords ensure they have everything in order?
Having a property manager isn’t a bad idea if you don’t have time to pay attention. A lot of people would be better served if they got a qualified property manager. Property managers are not all the same though. So talk to people who have recommendations and don’t be afraid to ask for references.
We hear the Residential Tenancy Act highly favours the tenant. Do you think that’s true?
The Tenancy Act in BC is not bad. We also work in Alberta and Ontario; in Ontario they’re adopting some of our policies in BC to better serve both tenants and landlords. Overall, it is not a bad system. The Residential Tenancy Branch does go out of their way to give people the right information. That’s very useful for landlords. I think they’ve done a lot of research about how they can be of service to both landlords and tenants.
Do you have any other horror stories you’d like to share?
There are always horror stories going on. One we recently dealt with has been evolving over 12 years. First, you have to understand that there are tenants (on the lease) and occupants (not on the lease) who live in homes. We’ve found that when tenants move, they don’t always take everyone with them. Some call them occupants, others call them squatters. They don’t pay rent and they’re not following any guidelines. It then becomes the landlord’s problem to get them out.
A woman (the tenant) who was living on an acreage brought a friend in to live in the basement when her husband left. The friend then moved her boyfriend in and moved another person onto the property. The friend also brought in a dog, a couple of horses and other exotic animals in cages. The tenant and occupant were at odds so the tenant gave notice she was moving out. So the tenant moved out but the occupant stayed.
In this case, we had to involve the RCMP. We also went to the Residential Tenancy Branch to ask for arbitration. We needed an arbitrator to declare her an occupant. The RCMP also declared her an occupant. Police forces are quick to say it’s a civil matter and refer to the Tenancy Branch and the Branch will say it doesn’t fall under them and refer people to police. Over time we’ve built up enough cases to know where things fall.
Another thing we run into often is hoarders. 2% of the population are hoarders. We find those statistics bear out time and time again.
What do you do if you find a hoarder?
As a landlord, you can give them notice to clean up. In a multi-unit building, your first concern is the well-being of everyone else in the building. The hoarding behaviour can result in fire, rodents, etc. You don’t want to lose 20 good tenants because of one. We’ve had to bring in mental health services in some cases. They are able to help people connect with the resources they need. We help get those processes in place.
When that isn’t an effective solution, you have to look at other options. We then take steps to have them removed through the Residential Tenancy Branch.
What about tenants who are belligerent or violent? Have you had any hairy situations?
I have run into people who have a very negative response and feel that I am infringing on their rights by being there. By the second or third visit, you get to know them and things usually settle down. Sometimes the belligerence has an underlying problem, like a mental health issue. I’m not a doctor but I can eliminate other things that aren’t the problem. If their behaviour affects other people in the neighbourhood or other units, there may be a remedy under the Residential Tenancy Branch.
Have you come across a lot of drug manufacturing?
In this career, no. In my other career as a police officer, I saw a lot of it. In this career, we encourage our landlords and property managers to tell potential tenants who we are at CTI Services when they’re vetting applicants. That sends the message to tenants that if they are going to be doing illegal activity, this isn’t the place for them. We’ve had landlords tell us tenants who are ready to move in suddenly change their minds when they hear who we are.
After 12 years of inspecting revenue properties, what is one piece of advice you’d give landlords or potential landlords?
Do your due diligence and make it on-going. Treat it like a business. You bought an investment property so treat it like one. A piece of real estate is expensive, so don’t give someone a set of keys and then say you’ll see them in a year. Either you need to do it, a friend or a relative, or CTI Services. Make sure your investment is being looked after.
Should everyday people with busy lives and families become landlords?
I don’t see anything wrong with it. I had a busy life when I became a landlord. I did my due diligence and my on-going due diligence. As an investor, there are tools available to you, like property management, to do what you don’t have time to do. It’s no different than finding a good lawyer or accountant. A property manager is just part of your team. If you don’t have the time or desire to look after your real estate, investing in property management is key. If you’re not going to look after your place, then you should be in a different investment.
Favourite neighbourhood: White Rock
Favourite bar or restaurant: Cosmos Greek Restaurant, White Rock or Ocean Park Village Pub, White Rock
One book you would recommend everyone read: Real Estate Investing in Canada by Don R. Campbell or The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
One piece of advice you would give your 18-year-old self: A life in policing may not give you everything you want in life!
Something you have purchased for under $1,000 that has positively changed your life: Many of the books I have read!
Find out more about CTI Services.