It may not be Halloween yet, but Pete and Lynn Kozak are dealing with a real nightmare left by tenants who suddenly vacated a house they owned in Keremeos.
The couple own the house at 428 Seventh Avenue. Up until recently, they had been renting out the premises to a group of people who were displaced in January of 2010 after a fire in their rental accomodations near Cawston.
The story of their plight made local and provincial news at the time after being picked up by a local TV network.
Residents in the Similkameen, and in Keremeos were sympathetic to the victim’s situation, donating clothing, electronics, furnishings and other items in order to allow the nine victims a chance to reestablish their lives
Pete and Lynn Kozak were among the many sympathizers. They could relate to the victims situation – the house on Seventh Avenue had recently been rebuilt due to an unexplained fire, and they also had a granddaughter who was mentally handicapped.
“Several people contacted me in early January of 2010, asking if our house was available,” Lynn related. “Although we did not want to become landlords – we wanted to sell the house – we wanted to help out.”
The Kozaks rented their house to the group, while they relocated to a farm they owned near Hedley.
“We made regular inspections of the house each month when we collected the rent,” Pete related, “we would notify them that we were coming, as required. We didn’t really notice too much. There was a lot of stuff accumulating in the house, but generally they had curtains on the windows and a dimly lit interior – it made it hard to notice what was happening.”
The group was charged $1,800 a month for rent during the period in which they occupied it, according to Lynn Kozak, who noted that an additional member of the party was living in a trailer on the property as well.
The house was still up for sale during the group’s rental, and on the most recent inspection / rent collection visit, the Kozaks had a realtor accompany them.
“She noticed damage to several doors, and to portions of the floor,” Kozak explained. The realtor explained to the renters that it would be their responsibility to pay for the damage.
A week ago, the Kozaks dropped by the house to pick up the month’s rent – only to discover evidence that the tenants had moved out, without notification. Upon closer inspection of the house, they discovered a veritable “house of horrors.”
“I had to remove 30 (garbage) bags of material just to move around on the ground floor,” Lynn said. “Doors had been kicked in, most of the carpet in the house is ruined, and just about every wall has some kind of damage.”
Two leaded glass interior doors contained broken glass, while piles and piles of what appeared to be donated items lay on the floor all over the house – even after Lynn’s efforts. The walls were filthy; in two or three places the drywall had actually been kicked in or otherwise broken. In addition, the built in smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector had been removed, and the thermostat had been tampered with.
“The yard was just as much of a mess,” Pete Kozak said. “We had left a lawnmower for them to use – the air filter was plugged solid and the engine was out of oil – I can’t believe I actually got it started.”
The Kozaks filed a complaint with the Keremeos RCMP detachment. Pete figures damages could be as high as $20,000. The Kozaks changed the locks on the house on October 4, as the keys to the house had not been returned.
“The entire house needs to be repainted, in addition to the damage repairs. There is no ministry that will take responsibility, and insurance seems unlikely to cover at this point.
“We didn’t want to be slum landlords – they made us into slum landlords,” said Lynn. “Where are we going to get justice? We didn’t want to be landlords in the first place.”
Rita Lepine, one of the tenants in the house, was asked by the Review about the damage.
“There were a few little holes in the walls,” she said, “ We were going to go back in and clean up, but they changed the locks on us. We had until midnight on (September) 30.”
Lepine claims that she notified Lynn with respect to leaving the house, but was never told that she had to give 30 days notice.
“It was supposed to be a five bedroom house when it only had three,” Lepine added. “They were supposed to add two rooms onto the deck. We were paying $1,200 a month the first year and $1,800 after – the two bedrooms were never added.
I recently found a six bedroom house with enough room for everyone.
We never had complaints before – they came and got the rent, and it was never late. They also have a $900 damage deposit that we never got back.”