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‘Freeman’ rental dispute highlights importance of leases

CALGARY- A strange tenant dispute between an Alberta woman and her ‘Freeman’ renter has been a wake up call for many landlords.

Rebekah Caverhill rented out half of her Calgary duplex to a man who was recommended as a tenant by a friend. He moved in during November of 2011, but only paid her half of the rent they agreed on. He also claims to be a ‘Freeman-on-the-Land,’ saying the home is an ‘embassy’ and no longer belongs to Caverhill. He went as far as to change the locks, and do renovations which he then charged Caverhill for—resulting in a lien against her home.

Caverhill did not have a written lease—and it turns out that hundreds of other people who rent out homes, basements and condos in Alberta do not have any sort of rental agreement, which outlines their rights.

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“You have to do all your due diligence up front,” warns Gerry Baxter from the Calgary Residential Rental Association. “If you’re using a lease agreement and if you know the legislation, if you understand it and you know how to apply it to your business, the chances of you encountering difficulties are minimized considerably.”

Being a landlord is like running a business, and everything should be in writing to avoid disputes. A written lease also guides landlords through the rental process by helping them screen tenants.

If trouble does arise, the province runs the residential tenancy dispute resolution service, which is faster and less expensive than going to court.

“That service has exactly the same authority under legislation to impose judgments, to impose conditions on tenants and landlords and to end tenancies to terminate tenancies and grant orders of possession just like in the courts,” explains Baxter. “It’s formal and you still have to have all of your documentation prepared properly just as you do when you go to court, but it’s in more of a board room setting than it is in the typical court room setting, which is quite often very intimidating to many people.”

Click here for more information on the residential tenancy dispute resolution service.

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