What is fairness and Fair for Whom? – Series of Stories of Owners & Tenants

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I bought my 3-plex in July 2007. 3-plex means that I have 2 tenants.  One tenant had been there for 11 years and the other 4 years and their rents were very low. Usually, the new owners would take one apartment with low rent back for themselves, but for my case, I need the bigger place for my son and my business. One family quit their unit before I became the owner.

The other tenant was a 60 years old retired woman who had been there 11 years. According to the Rental Board of Quebec ( Rental Board – Site de La Regie de Logement), the increase of rent is allowed by percentage corresponding to the factors of tax increase, inflation rate, management costs & renovations proceeded. It is the 2nd year after the city property tax increase and the roof was redone in 2004, windows and doors are 10 years old and the property is generally in good condition. But obviously there was no important rent increase for both tenants in the history of leases included in the purchasing documents and the property was sold more expensive than the city evaluation. Both of the tenants had protested against an increase proposal of 7 dollars and paid an increase of 2 dollars for the year before I bought it!  I, as the owner who has the obligations to expensive mortgage payments, property and school taxes, insurance and the conditions of the building,  find it unfair to keep the rent so low for me.

As we know, the real estate in Montreal soared drastically up after 2000. The price of a single house with a living area of 1,500 square feet, land area of about 6,000 sq.ft and double garages rocketed from 120k in 2000 to 360k in 2007. That of a 6-plex from 120k to 450k as well, which is almost 4 times in 7 years! The drastic increase of value in the real estate in Montreal in general is due to the fact that it had been low all those years after the down fall of economy in the late 80s and early half of 90s when Quebec was fighting for their independence, scaring off the English or non-French investors in Quebec to English speaking provinces such as Ontario and BC.

The increases of value in properties had created a conflict between the owners and the tenants in which the owners have the steeply increased obligations and henceforth bigger risk and the latter continuing paying low rent because of the time delay in adjusting the regulations in order to reflect the fairness for both sides in the drastic changes. If the owners didn’t have their own houses before buying the plex, they could occupy one or 2 units with the lowest rents, depending on how many adult kids they have or if they have spouses or parents on their charge in this family ( Law for unit repossession). The owners of course will fight for their interest and the tenants will do the same. In Montreal where there used to be more than 80% of tenants and only less than 20% owners, The Rental Board has detailed rules preventing the owners from doing whatever they want to the tenants. For the owners, they have CORPIQ to help them ease their headaches! Nevertheless, the 2 organizations can just do so much for each side leaving many owners and tenants sort out their own problems. The result is usually either owners give in, leaving alone the low rents or paying extra money besides the 3 months rent loss driving the bad tenants out, or the low rent tenants have to move out knowing that the repossession is not all the time for their family members than just seeking this fairness for themselves.

The now 62 years old tenant is not a bad tenant. She pays her rent on time and she is very quiet. But she is paying a way too low rent! She has been there very long and she likes to stay not only for the low rent, but also for the nice environment ( nice neighborhood, 30 seconds to St-Laurent River and Riverside park). I should agree to her argument, but she didn’t agree with me for the 50 dollars raise of rent, not even 25 dollars. I had been trying to raise her rent to a reasonable level for me thinking that this ” BIG” rent increase could have kept her there in her comfortable corner where she can continue enjoying watching the neighbor’s girls playing in the pool, sitting on the front balcony watching the river flowing by and I will feel a bit better watching my big bills being thrust in through my door every month! Well, she really was hard headed and not smart even though I took my time and intelligence in letting her know that she could have saved 203 per month together with all the trouble and expenses moving if she had to leave. She still enjoyed telling me that she doubted my incentive of taking her unit back for my family and still thought that she could stay there paying a rent of 225 lower than the market level.

I accepted her 7 dollar raise for last year because I passed the delay in giving her the repossession notice. This year, it will be the end for her. Not that I need this increase bad, but that it is unfair for me. I have a son who is 20 years old and I have the very property reason for the Board to let her leave. I don’t feel bad at all because I had tried being considerate for her and at the same time have been respecting my obligations and hard working as a tax payer in Canada. I sent her the notice 6 months and 25 days ahead stating the repossession for my son or my visiting my parents and I got the refusal from her naturally 10 days after. I consulted CORPIQ and the consultant told me to send her a modification correcting that the repossession will be for my son uniquely and canceling the previous notice because my parents are not coming this year, but mostly because, according to their experience ( jurisprudence), if the reason is not clear for the right persons ( my visiting parents would not be the right persons), then the Board could refuse my request and let her stay. So this time, I knocked on her door and she signed the Accusé  de Reception as a proof that she has received my modification within the legal delay. Next I have to send a letter to the Board within 30 days upon receiving her 2nd refusal letter.

As of the relationship with her, I will quote what she told me in person last year after telling her my intention: “Vous etes parlable”. She was comparing me with my previous owner-a 78 years old woman with 4 daughters who were not ” parlable ” obviously. She is right. Usually, if the owners want to drive their tenants out, they would not be ” parlable ” to their tenants. They would just send the letters without any problem! But I figured that she had been here 12 years and she looked like a reasonable person, so I should try to find the balance myself first before bringing it to the Board. I respected my obligations to clean the stairway whenever it snows, put rubber mattresses for us and her to be safe; I helped her with her wine cases up the stairs and she offered me one bottle for my help( of course I didn’t accept!). When I gave her my 2nd letter, I could see that she was a bit regretful, but I could not go back in negotiating the raise anymore. It was too late. In the end, I told her that I will let the Board decide. Both of us will have to accept whatever decision of the board. We have been in pretty good relation despite of all these unpleasant disputes…

Soon, I will send my request to the Board. If she can stay, hard luck for me! If she has to leave, then for her! But I couldn’t help thinking that it is inflexible and impractical of her and eventually inconsiderate of her for me not to have accepted my 25 dollar proposal and the law is just a tool to help people find the balance among all kinds of disputes. I should say that I had tried to achieve this balance between her and me quite objectively, yet unfortunately, because of her age or mentality or her angle towards this matter, she lost her objectivity and assumed an opposition attitude towards me, forgetting to take a look at the reality itself, and decided to cling to the rules that might have been out of date in reflecting the fairness because of the drastic changes in the real estate market today.

Please go to this site for reference even though the opinions are very much right winged and the opinions might not be objective about The Quiet Revolution of Quebec (Dr.Roy’s thoughts about what the Rental Board does)…

To know the judgement, please keep an eye on my recent posts.

Mothers Are Angels in Training

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It has been one year and 4 months since my son joined me in Montreal from China. Time went fast and it was my birthday. Usually I do not celebrate it, mainly it is not my thing and practically I have been busy working elsewhere from my family almost all the time in the past 15 years. You know, when you were alone, you tend to forget it because you realize you had no one to celebrate with you!

This year, it was different! My son is here, wohoooo! I sure did remember my birthday and I kind of reminded my son of this dusted shy future event of mine! The very day arrived and I asked my son: “do you want to have dinner with us ( to say us, because I am supposed to have dinner with my boyfriend )?  I thought he’d say no, but to my surprise, he said yes with a positive attitude in a happy tone. Well, then I have to tell my boyfriend that my son would come with us, because it was meant to be a 2-person private party! Eventually, his 2 daughters will join us too. More surprisingly, his parents were joining us as well! Olala, a party of 2 now became a party of 7! Well, that was not what I expected! A happy surprise for me who seldom took her birthday seriously and celebrated it with people!

It was a very good French restaurant at Plateau Montreal. My son was very hungry. We ordered Entrée. I asked for Escargo which was excellent, but my son ordered Vegi Salade which turned out to be not so good according to him. “ yuck”, he murmured, “ it is bitter!” That was one of the problems too often to arrive when we do not know about the ingredients of Western food!!  He ate it almost up despite of his yucky feeling. “ Well”, I said to him: “ if you have an open stomach,  you might think it is not too bad,  or you will not order it the next time!”

For the main course, I ordered Duck Liver! That was very good as well. My boyfriend’s mother ordered exactly the same dinner as me: both entrée and main course! My son quickly finished his meal of pasta and played with his iPod touch with Frédérique, daughter of my boyfriend. When everybody finished and started ordering dessert, my son asked for his school bag which was put on the corner counter behind the table and reached for something inside. He took out an envelope, a big one. It looked like an envelope for photos. He stood up and gave it to me across the table. I took it and put my hand in trying to feel what it was. Well, what I took out was not one thing, it was 2 pieces. 2 long rectangular things rapped up with white gift papers. What could these be? I wondered!

Unfolding the white paper, I saw 2 plates of whitish lime stone like pieces. They were tied by 2 strings on top of each and they have words engraved in. On one, it reads: Mothers are Angels in Training! On the other: If I could choose again, I’d still choose you!  “WOW!”,  was said loud in my mind!  I looked at him thinking: “what the h..this little person did!” The second phrase, I heard it sometimes, but Mothers are Angels in Training! Shut up! Isn’t it awesomely nice!!

Just think about it, mothers are Angels in Training! An excellent compliment to his mother, me , and a compliment with a reserved attitude and a hidden reality truth: we are mothers who face challenges of parenting every day, and yes, haven’t we been in training all the time to cope with different situations and deal with different children? Are we doing well, are we doing bad? But no matter how we have been doing, we all have golden hearts full of non-conditional love for our children and yes, that is why we are angels! Nevertheless, it is a compliment with a sense of humor about the fact that all mothers are human beings ourselves with faults, yet who, despite of the fact,  always  love and protect our children almost  like angels only not quite knowing the HOW_TO skills! It gives an ultimate praise to mothers, it acknowledges the good wills of them and it brings hope to mothers who are facing challenges all the time no matter where they are in the world!

“I am jealous!”, said Stephanes’ mom. “ My son never said that to me!” Yes, it is another compliment again, not only for me, but also for my almost 20 years old son who is truly growing up every day with more and better gentleness, kindness, knowledge and skills…That is the direction all mothers have been keeping their fingers cross for every day and the direction for all mothers to look up to, secretly trying to be “trained” so that they can be honoured “ Angels” when their kids grow up into true women and men.

A Walk With My Son in the Angrignon Park

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It was a fine and beautiful Sunday, a perfect autumn day. There were no clouds in the sky and the temperature was 9 degree Celcius. I dragged my son for a walk in the Angrignon Park at the City Lasalle where we live. I say drag because he almost always tend to say no to my suggetions, like taking a walk, doing roller blading, swimming, etc. It took me quite some effort to get him out.

It was fresh and nice in the park. Not many people, a few enjoying their last BBQ and a few taking their walk. We saw quite many Chinese there as I know as a mortgage broker that quite some Chinese bought properties in Lasalle.

Busy all Spring and Summer, I myself didn’t have much time visiting around except once canoeing and another time kayaking with my son and friends in Boucherville. Taking time walking in the park, especially in Angrignon Park was the first time since 1999 when I was perching in one of the new condos just nearby.

My son arrived and started living with me last July. He is now close to 20, a tall slim handsome boy. He had been living with his father in China all the time,  with me visiting him every year for a few months. For sure, we would wonder how I kept the relationship with him while most of the time living here, not there with him. What I say is that even though we live with our children side by side 24 by 7, it is not guaranteed that we will have a good communication with them and nor that we will have a good relationship with them.

I remembered that a few years ago, I was taking a walk with one of my aquaintances and her son then 11 or 12 years old. She called herself a writer who wrote about children’s education and still writes about many stuff. I was quite shocked by the way of her being with her son and the relationship between them. The whole time we were walking by the Fleuve St-Laurent, the son had always kept a big distance from us! He walked a bit closer only when his mom yelled at him! I tried to talk with him, but he showed not much response! Then his mom said to me: Aiya, he is just like that, very frustrating! It seemed that he was in his world having nothing to say to us and her mom on the other side, neither had anything to say to him except giving him lectures and criticizing him even in front of people…

My son was not yet here with me then. I was hoping that my son would do better and I would be very different in the ways of being with him as well…One thing for sure, I do not agree on criticizing children in a negative non-constructive way and on thinking that children should always listen to and do what their parents say as my parents and many Chinese parents had been doing and many still have been doing all the time. I am determined to do different and better! After all, as our Chinese saying goes: Children not educated is the fault of the Father ( we now mean the Parents)! For a young man in his late teens or early twenties, especially in this important critical transit period of his life from his childhood to adulthood, from one culture to others, the parents certainly are playing very important roles…

My son is not a very talkative person. He is very pleasant and takes care of people as he was educated as a Chinese, such as pouring water for other people around and putting meals into other people’s plates( which I do not do!). He does what I told him to do, even some renovation jobs and he is at ease with people and starts to asociate though very slowly with the society…I was told by my colleagues that  he is a good boy! As many of my friends said to me: he is a person with things in his eyes. I take it as an absolute compliment and feel very happy that my son turned out to be like such as he is now…but I feel that I haven’t seen the light in his eyes, the light of spirit, the light of love and sharing, the light which shows his pursuit, gratitude and that he is curious about life and is willing to understand life, the light that will lead him into the wonderful direction into which he is growing…but I surely believe that I will in the future and I am working persistantly to achieve this goal as a parent.

Through the over-lapping maple leaves, falling,floating, through those gold, yellow and some still green, the sun had his ways for us to see its magnifiscent rays. Walking through the woods with closer trees moving faster and farther ones slower, we saw beautiful stereotyped space full of different sized and couloured leaves radiant with different shades of golden beams of sun rays. It is through these colourful leaves shows the wonders of changes and beauty and values from different angles; it is through time that we work bit by bit together with our children…Things will work out wonderfully with time and patience like the Sun is working out magically the beauty of the woods in autaumn! On the walkway, I was trying to talk to him about Ralph Waldo Ermerson, the American 19th century thinker and writer( transcendentalist), his famous and generations-inspiring essaie Self-Reliance…

Owning Properties – Series of Stories of Owners and Tenants

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Since when I started to own properties and have tenants? Funny isn’t it? Funnier is that I have them in Canada! Just imagine 15 years ago in China, nothing belonged to people for about 45 years after 1949! Everything belonged to the big communist country where everybody was a tenant! The fact is that the owner didn’t have the concept and means to maintain its properties leaving them in poor or nasty conditions and the tenants naturally tend to care less about them. As a cruel result, the whole country became bleak and ugly!

Only after I started my career as a mortgage broker did I realize that we have multi-typed properties in Canada! That is completely new to us who came from China where we have very limited type of properties: condominiums! Here we have not only condos, we have 2-plex to 4-plex where we have one- owner-only owning the whole building living in one of the units or not. We have 5-plex up to even hundred-units building where one owner is owning all of them and renting them to tenants, receiving rents as the benefit of the investment. These units are inseparable in ownership, therefore you can not buy them separately except buying them as a whole. We call them Apartment Building. They are one of the big investment items in the society.

Since we had not much clue about properties and we seldom owned them, we had not much of a good habit maintaining the conditions. Well, to say that, I have to exclude those of us who are care taking anyway whether the properties belong to them or not. Yet most of us, I should say,  tend to think that since they do not own the place, so they figure that they can do whatever they like, such as making many holes in the walls without asking the permission of the owner, cooking with lots of grease leaving the oven and the kitchen cupboards greasy and disgusting without cleaning for long long time. I heard and saw some apartments even having the ceiling dripping oil down!!!! Many Chinese who owned plexes told me not to rent to Chinese! Wow, that is something quite paradoxical, being Chinese owners not willing to rent to other Chinese tenants!

I owned my very first property in 1996. It was purchased then with all cash made while working for Impregilo, Holtzmann & etc. in China. To own a property was a very proud thing to do in China!!!! I bought it at the price of 100k,  spent 35k RMB and got the 5 & half-like apartment( condo) furnished.  I spent 35k RMB to furnish the apartment because most of the condos sold in China from day one of our housing market, they are not finished! The developers sell you a shell without furnishing it. There are the standard toilettes,  kitchen sinks installed while the floors and walls are still in concrete. So if you like fancy styles and you can afford it, you can do whatever you want. But to tell you the truth, leaving the job to every family to finish,  it created lots of trouble for the not handy families who rack their brains for what to do and buy, where to buy, and trouble for the community as well such as hearing noise and walking over construction garbage and slip over dust in the corridors and elevators even 5-10 years after the building is finished.

Owning properties is for sure a good and essential change for China where it gives back the occasion and chances for people  to realize and establish the basic value system again and eventually to care about the system which is directly connected to people. The ownership of properties was long eliminated and replaced by the communist Utopia everything-belongs-to-people-system, which was proved not working at all by various communist countries in the world. Nevertheless, people do not own the land under their properties, including  the 700 million farmers in the rural areas of China where all the farmers are tenants of the communist party,  only having the right to use the land rather than owning them…where it allows the richer city real estate developers to drive farmers into situations of not even having any land to use…

Please read the interesting article on NYT website about the recent Chinese Land Reform.