B.C. re­al­tor sus­pended for al­leged preda­tory prac­tices

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS - MIKE HAGER VAN­COU­VER

B.C.’s real es­tate reg­u­la­tor has taken the rare step of is­su­ing an emer­gency sus­pen­sion on a Metro Van­cou­ver re­al­tor al­leged to have tar­geted clients fac­ing fore­clo­sure on their prop­er­ties with a preda­tory rent-toown scheme.

Late on Tues­day af­ter­noon, the Real Es­tate Coun­cil of Bri­tish Columbia an­nounced an im­me­di­ate sus­pen­sion of Kevin­deep (Kevin) Singh Bratch and his com­pany, Bratch Re­alty, for al­legedly buy­ing the homes of own­ers fac­ing fore­clo­sure for less than mar­ket value and then en­ter­ing into rent-to-own agree­ments with those same peo­ple, who were not rep­re­sented by real­tors or lawyers.

None of the al­le­ga­tions from the B.C. Real Es­tate Coun­cil has been proven and Mr. Bratch couldn’t be im­me­di­ately reached for com­ment.

“The terms were highly dis­ad­van­ta­geous, to the point of the ‘rent-to­buy pro­gram’ be­ing ‘preda­tory’ in na­ture,” Robert Holmes, the chair of the coun­cil’s dis­ci­pline com­mit­tee, wrote in his de­ci­sion re­leased on Tues­day. “Mr. Bratch of­fered sell­ers a life­line, bail­ing them out of their im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial predica­ment with fore­clo­sure pro­ceed­ings, but in re­turn, en­gi­neer­ing the pur­chase of their prop­erty – whether in his name, [redacted] name or the name of a num­bered com­pany owned by [redacted] – at less than mar­ket value, us­ing the vain hope that they could re­gain own­er­ship of their prop­erty at sub­stan­tially-higher prices.”

The coun­cil al­leges that, un­der this scheme, the pre­vi­ous own­ers paid Mr. Bratch rent that was more than dou­ble the mort­gage pay­ments he was mak­ing on these new prop­er­ties. The coun­cil al­leges that these ten­ants had no rights un­der the agree­ments to ex­er­cise op­tions such as re­cov­er­ing their trans­ferred eq­uity. “These pro­vi­sions are dra­co­nian,” Mr. Holmes wrote.

Coun­cil in­ves­ti­ga­tors pro­vided ev­i­dence that Mr. Bratch had used this tac­tic on two cou­ples liv­ing in and around Van­cou­ver and Mr. Holmes stated that seven other prop­er­ties may have been in­volved in this scheme.

Mr. Bratch, li­censed since 2011, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment late Tues­day af­ter­noon.

None of these al­le­ga­tions has been proven, but the coun­cil said an im­me­di­ate li­cence sus­pen­sion was nec­es­sary while it in­ves­ti­gates the com­plaints fur­ther. Mem­bers of the pub­lic who had deal­ings with Mr. Bratch are asked to con­tact the coun­cil.

Mr. Holmes noted it was un­for­tu­nate that the sus­pen­sion of the com­pany’s li­cence would also bar an­other re­al­tor at the firm from prac­tis­ing, but that was out­weighed by the risk to the pub­lic.

Mr. Holmes said the coun­cil ini­ti­ated an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter an Oct. 15 news ar­ti­cle in the Maple RidgePitt Mead­ows News de­tail­ing an el­derly cou­ple’s claim that they were evicted by Mr. Bratch af­ter vi­o­lat­ing the terms of their rent-to-own agree­ment.

Ear­lier this year, the coun­cil said it was strug­gling to clear a moun­tain of pub­lic com­plaints and would ex­pected to carry more than 700 open dis­ci­plinary files into the cur­rent fis­cal year, which be­gan on July 1.

The coun­cil is in the midst of mod­ern­iz­ing its com­plaints process as part of a con­tin­u­ing or­ga­ni­za­tional over­haul that be­gan last year, when the provin­cial gov­ern­ment ended the real es­tate in­dus­try’s decade of self-reg­u­la­tion af­ter wide­spread prob­lems were re­vealed in The Globe and Mail.

The coun­cil had been roundly crit­i­cized for slap­ping real­tors on the wrist when they were caught en­gag­ing in cut­throat and il­le­gal prac­tices.

One of the key re­forms is the abil­ity of the coun­cil to levy fines up to a max­i­mum of $250,000 against bad real­tors, which is up from the pre­vi­ous max­i­mum of just $10,000.

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