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Tenant who turned 12 luxury homes into rooming houses ordered to pay $36K or spend time in jail

A Markham, Ont. man who rented a dozen luxury homes and turned them into rooming houses has been ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution to the landlords within 10 days or he’ll be arrested and jailed for four months.

The penalty comes after Arif Adnan Syed was found in contempt of court last month for failing to comply with an Ontario Superior Court of Justice order compelling him to turn all of the properties back into single-family residences.

In a scathing nine-page decision, Justice Mark Edwards made it clear that he didn’t accept Syed’s assertion that he was struggling financially or that Syed had tried his best to empty the houses of occupants.

“The fact that Syed continued to accept rent is a further reflection of his real intentions,” Edwards said. “Syed had no intention to restore the residences to their former status as single-family residences until he was staring down the barrel of a contempt motion.”

In terms of finances, the Superior Court judge said that Syed’s own evidence shows he’s not struggling. Syed testified that he received an average of $500 a month for each room he rented and so could have been making roughly $40,000 a month across the properties when he had 90 renters.

$208K deposited to bank account in 1 month

Syed’s bank account statements also show total monthly deposits ranging from roughly $30,000 to $208,000 and total monthly withdrawals as high as $216,000 during the months he was leasing at least some of the luxury homes.

“What the bank account statements do seem to reveal are substantial cash withdrawals during the currency of Syed’s fraud that he has perpetrated on the plaintiffs,” Edwards said.

WATCH | Landlords who rented their homes inspect the damage:

John Davies and Titi Zhang are among 12 people who rented homes to Arif Adnan Syed. He then turned them into illegal rooming houses. A Superior Court judge has ordered the homes be restored to single-family homes and has terminated Syed’s leases. 1:00

One regular transaction the judge considered notable was a monthly $5,123 lease payment, which Edwards said was “presumably the monthly lease of Syed’s Lamborghini sports car.”

“The fact that Syed is leasing a Lamborghini sports car does not measure up with his assertion that he is ‘struggling,'” the judge said.

In a phone interview after Wednesday’s hearing, Syed told CBC News that he is struggling financially now but wasn’t at the time of the bank statements.

“I respect the court decision, and I have started working on it,” he said. “And I will try my best to have the restitution paid out within 10 days.”

Landlords say homes sustained up to $1M in damage 

Despite the strong words, the decision by Edwards is all bark and no bite in the eyes of at least one of the landlords.

We’re going to be paid less than [Syed] pays every single month to lease his precious Lamborghini.– John Davies

John Davies said the $36,000 the judge awarded in restitution is “ludicrous” given how little each of the 12 landlords will get to help restore their homes once the funds are split among them. 

“[The judge] said that he’s going to award substantial damages, and we get insulted with a payment of $3,000 a house,” Davies said. “We’re going to be paid less than [Syed] pays every single month to lease his precious Lamborghini.”

john davies landlord
John Davies, who leased his Thornhill, Ont., house to Syed, said the $36,000 the judge awarded in restitution is ‘ludicrous’ given how little each of the 12 landlords will receive to help restore their homes once the funds are split among them. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

CBC News previously reported on efforts by Davies and the other landlords to reclaim their luxury homes after Edwards voided their leases in late September. The landlords say the illegal rooming houses have caused up to $1 million in damage across their 12 properties in Richmond Hill, Markham and Thornhill, all in the Greater Toronto Area.

The remaining occupants in three of the 12 houses are set to be evicted on Thursday.

Syed is also facing 17 fraud-related criminal charges for allegedly using fake identification documents in his applications to rent the houses. None of the charges have been proven in court. 

Penalty means ‘nefarious activities’ will continue

Davies told CBC News that Syed owes him $40,000 — a year’s worth of rent — and estimates that it will cost $70,000 to $80,000 to repair the damage the rooming house caused to his Thornhill home.

“This is a recipe for the courts encouraging criminals to carry on with their nefarious activities,” he said. “Other people are going to say, ‘My goodness, I can do that, too. I can start doing that because I can get away with it.'”

In his decision Edwards said the restitution money is to give the landlords “a means to clean up and begin the repair of their homes,” since it was “impossible” to determine how much damage was done to all of the properties based on the evidence in the contempt hearing.

john davies house damage
Davies estimates that it will cost $70,000 to $80,000 to repair the damage that the rooming house caused to his Thornhill home, north of Toronto. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

The judge said damage claims will have to be made “as the action proceeds.”

Along with the $36,000 in restitution, Edwards also ordered Syed to pay $65,000 in legal costs for the proceeding, including an overdue $15,000 payment he had been ordered to make previously.

Syed told CBC News he’s working on paying the restitution first and will then turn to the legal costs.

Davies said he doesn’t think that Syed will pay those costs. But even if they are paid, the landlord said it won’t cover all of the legal fees he and other landlords have accrued trying to get their houses back.

“How the hell can somebody get away with this level of fraud, dishonesty and criminal activity — and it’s the innocent that have to pay for it?” he said.

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