December 7, 2018 10:00 am

‘I’d rather die than move’: Ontario senior couple say they felt pressured to sell family home

WATCH ABOVE: An elderly couple's family claims they were pressured to sell their home in a highly sought after Woodbridge neighbourhood by a real estate agent with Royal Lepage. As Caryn Lieberman reports, the man signed a contract to sell, but his daughter insists he wasn't competent to make that decision.

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For more than 20 years, Clarice Henriques, now in her 90s, has lived in and loved her Woodbridge home.

“I’d rather die than move,” she said.

This is why it came as such a shock to her daughter Maria Morgis when, out of the blue, nearly seven years ago, Henriques and her husband Fernando Henriques revealed the house had been sold.

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“The house was not for sale,” Morgis said. “I didn’t know what to think. I was surprised.”

The Henriques’ said a real estate agent with Royal Lepage showed up at their home one day in February 2012 and handed Clarice an envelope containing an offer to purchase. With no intention to sell, the couple said the offer was ignored until the agent returned several days later. They said the house was then sold within hours.

Morgis said she believes her father felt pressured to sell.

“It was almost like she had control of his mind,” she said.

“He reasoned, ‘OK, if they’re offering me $725,000, I’ll just say $925,000’ because he thought it was such an outlandish number he would make her go away.”

Instead, after signing the contract, the deal was done.

Morgis said what upset her the most is that her father told her he asked the real estate agent, Shana Ditta, several times for a few days to consult with his children before finalizing.

“Up until then, I thought, ‘Well, it is what it is.’ I mean you shouldn’t have done this, but at that point, I thought, ‘Here is somebody that is really sharp and she took advantage of my parents,'” she said.

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The family consulted a lawyer and refused to close on the home.

“They would not close and the buyer wished to enforce the contract to close, so we embroiled ourselves in a lawsuit that’s been dragging on for a number of years,” said Nicholas Macos, the family’s lawyer.

“If somebody went to your door and tried to sell you a hot water heater, you’d have a cooling off period to get out of that. But if someone comes to your door with a contract that signs you up to sell your home, curiously you don’t.”

As a result of the refusal to close, the buyer, Ashley Park Developments, launched a lawsuit against the couple.

The company’s statement of claim noted the Henriques’ “have refused to fulfill their obligations under the agreement.”

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In the lawsuit, Ashley Park Developments also filed claims against Shana Ditta and Royal LePage. The claims alleged Ditta “knew or ought to have known that the property was not for sale and that Fernando Henriques and Clarice Henriques were not willing to sell and/or lacked the requisite capacity to convey the property.”

The developer also insisted it relied upon Ditta’s representation in proceeding with the sale and had not communicated with the owners directly.

However, in their statement of defence, Ditta and Royal LePage denied the allegations. The statement said the negotiations occurred over a three-day period and the family had several days to consider the offer and allow the children to see it.

It also said Clarice Henriques indicated that “they might be interested in selling the property,” but asked Ditta to return the next day after 4 p.m. “when her husband would be home.”

Ditta and Lepage noted the agent returned two days later, at which point, they claimed the Henriques’ “indicated that the amount of the offer was not acceptable” and that another agent had been by their home.

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“The Henriques’ said they were comfortable signing back to the plaintiff at $895,000,” the statement read, and “they also said that they could not maintain the property for much longer as it was a lot of work for them.”

Morgis claimed her parents never intended to sell the property, were not competent to do so, and were pressured to sign the offer.

She noted her mother was 84 years old at the time and suffering from early onset dementia, while her father was not fluent in English.

The family filed a complaint with the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). It is essentially the government watchdog of real estate agents.

As a result, RECO issued a warning to Ditta, noting, “In this specific situation, you failed to document the type of services you were providing to the sellers, and therefore caused your brokerage to contravene the REBA2002.”

As well, Ditta was required by RECO to “complete [an] ethics and business practice course at the Real Estate Institute of Canada” at her own expense within 90 days of receiving the decision.

Kelvin Kucey, deputy registrar of regulatory compliance for RECO, said, “If you’re concerned about anything to do with how they approach you or how they deal with you or how they treat you, we’re interested in hearing about that and there are statutory requirements in how they must conduct themselves and we enforce that law.”

Kucey pointed out RECO can issue anything from a warning “all the way to giving an individual a $50,000 fine for their misconduct.”

Unfortunately for the Henriques’, RECO’s decision has no bearing on the sale of the home and the lawsuit they are still facing. Both issues have cast a dark cloud over the couple.

A year after singing the contract, Fernando died.

“All he could think about was how bad he felt that he was leaving behind this mess,” Morgis said with tears in her eyes.

She said she decided to come forward now, nearly seven years later, because she worries about other seniors who may be vulnerable to this type of situation.

“Oh my God, if it could happen to my parents, it could happen to anybody,” she said.

“We have laws that protect young people like children. Why don’t we laws to protect the elderly?”

Macos added, “If we could help people in the future avoid this, either through changing the case law as it stands or seeing some legislation come into effect, that might protect people in the same way they’re protected from itinerant salesmen.”

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Sean O’Shea, Global News’ award-winning investigative and consumer reporter, agreed there should be some legislation targeted towards seniors. But right now, he said there isn’t anything to protect them.

“Seniors are a passel of people who are home in the day time. They typically open the doors, they’ll typically talk to people,” O’Shea said.

“They are less skeptical frequently and so they’re more likely to be abused at the door whether you’re talking about somebody in a real estate situation or you’re talking about somebody trying to sell a hot water tank.”

O’Shea’s advice to seniors included avoiding opening the door and never signing anything.

“Something needs to be done, because if it can happen to them, it could happen to anybody,” Morgis said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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