Tenant turned Airbnb proprietor becomes landlord’s nightmare
By Betsy Powell City Hall Bureau
02 October 2016
Vivian Mah (right) and paralegal Cheryl Sereny outside the condo
building at 224 King St W. A Toronto woman, using fake documents, has
been renting upscale downtown condos and listing them on Airbnb,
stiffing owners and some home-sharing travellers. (VINCE TALOTTA /
After buying a 625-square-foot condo on King St. W. as an investment
property, Vivian Mah hired a realtor to find a “Triple AAA professional
tenant” who would pay the rent on time.
“I wanted to make sure it was someone decent who would take care of my property,” said Mah, who is an urban planner.
Elizabeth Tremblay seemed to fit the bill.
The soft-spoken 53-year-old presented herself as an executive director
of a not-for-profit organization who was relocating to Toronto from
California. She submitted references, an employment letter confirming a
yearly salary of about $70,000 and a credit report that raised no red
The realtor said “you should go with her,” and Mah did, renting the
one-bedroom corner unit to Tremblay for $2,100 a month beginning May 1.
But within days, before the rent cheques started bouncing, Tremblay’s
tenancy turned into Mah’s nightmare when building staff advised the
female occupant was renting the unit to multiple individuals, probably
through Airbnb, a website offering short-term rentals in private homes.
“The moment she got in, she Airbnb’d my property, even though she’s not allowed to be doing that,” Mah said.
During an Aug. 3 hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board, Tremblay, who represented herself, denied renting out Mah’s condo.
“I love the building. Why do you think I would Airbnb it?” Tremblay told Guy Savoie, the board’s vice-chair.
Mah’s condo tower at 224 King St. W., known as Theatre Park, does not permit rentals of less than three months.
“This condo I acquired through years of hard work and savings has
become her free source of income,” Mah said. “It worries me so much so
that it has caused an impact on my health. … I can’t sleep, I’ve lost
my appetite and have heart palpitations.”
Last month, Toronto police officers arrested Tremblay at the Landlord
and Tenant building on St. Clair Ave. She was taken into custody and
charged with uttering a forged document, in connection with her rental
application, and three counts of false pretenses relating to bad rent
cheques. She was released and ordered to appear in court again Nov. 3.
Police allege Tremblay has a history of moving into a condo, not paying
rent, and using “the legal system against the landlord for months or
longer, until the landlord can have her evicted by the sheriff. In the
meantime, she allegedly lives free, subletting the condos to earn money
while the landlord is taken advantage of,” a police spokesman told the
Mah said her experience is a cautionary tale for both property owners
and online renters in the so-called sharing economy, which has city
hall grappling with how to manage Airbnb and other short-term rental
Such “horror stories” underscore the urgent need for regulation to
ensure only licensed hosts are renting units that are safe and in
compliance with all bylaws, said Thorben Wieditz, a spokesman for a new
coalition called Fairbnb.ca.
“Then there’s some form of transparency and accountability, and we can actually trace people and hold people accountable.”
Mah’s case also highlights the inadequacies of the provincial 2006
Residential Tenancies Act, said Cheryl Sereny, the paralegal to whom
Mah turned in June to begin eviction proceedings.
Amendments should be made to prohibit tenants from letting a rental
unit on Airbnb and to allow for the immediate termination of tenancy
upon proof the unit is being used that way, Sereny said.
Mah said she is disgusted with the process.
“All I want is my unit back, and I’ve been going to the Landlord and
Tenant Board since May. She (Tremblay) uses stall tactics and delays
the process. Only last week did they issue a notice that her tenancy
was terminated as of Oct. 10,” Mah said.
“If she doesn’t leave voluntarily, I have to spend more money to pay the sheriff to get her out.”
Tremblay speaks to police. Tremblay was arrested last week and charged
with uttering a forged document in connection with her rental
application, and three counts of false pretenses relating to bad rent
cheques. (COURTESY VIVIAN MAH)
In June, in an attempt to expedite the eviction proceedings, Sereny
filed a copy of a Kijiji ad with the Landlord and Tenant Board.
The ad, under the headline, “Actor 1-3 Hours Tuesday $100.00 CASH” asks
for a representative to appear at the Landlord and Tenant Board “to
request an adjournment for an ill individual.” Sereny said Tremblay
placed it last March during a dispute over unpaid rent with another
In an email to the Star, Tremblay said she expected her words would be
twisted and suggested an unnamed person had lied on the stand. “The
advice I got today was that Mr. (Mike) Duffy is a good example of
scandal versus the weight of facts.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Tremblay is executive director of
business development at Serve to Care. The company’s website states
that it leads “the future in corporate, individual, philanthropic and
not-for-profit collaborations.” The address listed is 77 King St. W. No
such company is listed in the downtown officer tower directory.
While digging into Tremblay’s background, with the help of a skip
tracer, Sereny discovered she was the furthest thing from a “Triple
Tremblay used falsified documents to rent Mah’s condo and has an
undischarged bankruptcy. She is unemployed and collects an ODSP shelter
allowance of $479 a month, Sereny told a Landlord and Tenant hearing in
August. She did so allegedly to hide her abysmal credit history, Sereny
On her rental application, Tremblay claimed she lived in California
from 2011 to 2015. But Sereny told the tribunal she has been kicked out
of six Toronto condos since 2014 for not paying rent and continues to
owe tens of thousands of dollars to landlords.
During the Aug. 3 hearing, a former police officer and owner of the
company that provides security and concierge services at Theatre Park
testified to numerous examples of Tremblay entering and leaving 224
King St. with “multiple individuals,” often carrying luggage.
None of the “guests” was registered at the front desk, as per condo
rules, he said, adding there was “no question” Tremblay was renting out
Security staff at 224 King already knew Tremblay. She had previously
rented two other units in the building, before being ousted for
nonpayment of rent.
Another witness testified at the Aug. 3 hearing about showing up at her
family-owned condo, also rented by Tremblay. She described how, days
earlier, she found Tremblay inside with three young men in town for
Tremblay insisted the trio were her son’s friends, though he wasn’t
there. A sheriff evicted Tremblay from that condo Aug. 16 for unpaid
Mah said it took some time, but she eventually found the listing for
her condo on Airbnb. It was under Tremblay’s daughter’s name and
included a mix of positive and negative reviews.
When Mah contacted Airbnb and told them her tenant was renting her
condo out without permission, the company cited a “confidentiality
clause” and said there was nothing they could do, she said.
“That host’s listing is no longer available,” Airbnb said in a
statement. A company spokesman sent the Star a link to a section on its
website on its guest and host vetting policy, under the heading Trust
One of the reviewers, Vanada Kong, identified Tremblay from photos sent
to her by the Star. When Kong, three friends and a dog and cat arrived
in Toronto from Montreal last month, Tremblay told them the unit they
thought they had rented a month earlier, for $159 a night, was
They ended up at 224 King St., in Mah’s condo, Kong said. She and two
of her friends slept uncomfortably, sharing a queen-sized bed. The
fourth friend slept on an air mattress in the living room.
Tremblay slept on the balcony, where she was joined, in the middle of
the night, by her son and daughter. The next night, Tremblay
transferred the guests to another condo, at 30 Nelson St., “and
everything went smoothly,” Kong wrote in an email. Still, she said, she
is waiting for Tremblay to refund her money.
Elizabeth Tremblay speaks to police. Condo owner Vivian Mah says Tremblay still owes her $2,160. (COURTESY VIVIAN MAH)
Last week, the Landlord and Tenant Board terminated Tremblay’s tenancy
in Mah’s condo as of Oct. 10 and issued an order that she is not
allowed on the property. But she still has possession of the unit, and
Mah said she believes Tremblay’s daughter is living there.
Tremblay has made some payments, but currently owes Mah $2,160, including NSF fees, Sereny said.
In an earlier life, Tremblay was described by a National Post society
columnist as a “Forest Hill tennis buff” who started a charity
tournament in 1999 to raise funds for the hospice movement in Ontario.
But by 2006, Tremblay’s 20-year marriage was on the rocks and the
couple was embroiled in acrimonious divorce proceedings, arguing over
child and spousal support, according to court documents. Summarizing
the family history, the judge wrote it was a case of “both financial
irresponsibility and bad behaviour.”
Tremblay racked up close to $200,000 in debts when the marriage
dissolved, and, without her ex-husband’s knowledge, she placed an
additional mortgage on the home by forging his signature, court
In 2008, Tremblay pleaded guilty to two of six charges laid against
her. She was convicted and given a suspended sentence and was placed on
probation for 18 months.
“Ms. Tremblay’s spending and failure to pay debt continue,” the judge wrote in 2009. “Her sense of entitlement knows no bounds.”
She also fraudulently obtained a credit card in the name of her
ex-husband’s new partner and ran up charges on it, a 2009 court ruling
said. She also “fraudulently” withdrew funds from the woman’s account
and forged a letter from the Family Responsibility Office and had it
delivered to his home.
In September 2009, Tremblay was evicted from a home on Russell Hill Rd. for non-payment of rent, the court ruling says.