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When people take advantage of the vulnerable

This is one of those stories that’s sad to tell and infuriating to witness, but necessary to share.

It’s one of those things we don’t realize is a concern until it’s happening to us or someone we love. It’s one of those stories where someone takes advantage of someone with dementia.

If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m an avid advocate for people’s protection. From the pitfalls of buying and selling, from the confusing condominium process and especially from the dangers of being unrepresented or poorly represented by lawyers, mortgage brokers and other professionals.

Sometimes we need to even be protected from our own family and friends.

I was recently working on a transaction in which the other agent’s client was selling their property and, at the same time, experiencing the onset of dementia. The seller was still capable to transact and make decisions, but the signs were there. There were moments of anger or confusion, but overall the owner could manage and was well aware of what was going on.

As we worked together, the agent with their seller and me with my buyer, a big problem presented itself. The seller was away on an extended vacation and returned, shocked to discover changed locks and a strange family in the residence.

Surprise! There were tenants living in the house.

Without the owner’s permission or knowledge, someone close to them had disposed of whatever possessions had been in there and had rented out the property. Now, unbeknownst to the owner and both agents involved, we were dealing with the complication of implied landlord/tenant laws that govern that relationship.

Even though there was no formal lease agreement, no deposit given, and the seller was trying to sell the property (and signed a contract with the agent to that effect), it didn’t matter. Provincial legislation supersedes contract law. The owner was bound by landlord/tenant law of the Residential Tenancies Act.

Between me, the other agent and the lawyers on both sides, we worked feverishly to mend the legal holes and resolve this issue so the seller could still sell, the buyer could still buy and the tenants were not further victimized in the process. It was a huge challenge to put the transaction together with all those strings attached, but we managed it, all while keeping our composure, dealing with stresses that impacted both of our clients.

I want to focus on the seller who was taken advantage of in a state of vulnerability.

A Power of Attorney was granted to a family member who took it upon themselves to do this to the rightful owner whose competency was not in question. We all need to guard our loved ones as much as possible, even sometimes from those close to them.

Obviously we can’t insulate ourselves from every mishap, but there are a few things we can do to give ourselves and loved ones the best chance.

  • Hire trustworthy professionals to represent you along the way. It’s a complicated thing to sell a house and has a lot of legal implications along the way. Especially if it’s a condo!
  • Guard your keys, codes and other private access information. Sorry, but even family and friends should be vetted if they are to have access to your keys, pass codes or other information that could allow them to take control of your property. Especially if you’re in the process of selling. Or the place is vacant or you’re vulnerable in some way. If you are vulnerable, seek advice from a professional or authority. Especially if all three are the case.
  • If granting a Power of Attorney, be certain of the qualifications and integrity of the person. If you have concerns about someone who has granted their Power of Attorney, be vocal and call an authority for direction.

How would you go about protecting yourself or your family in such a situation?