Edmonton tenants angry over more landlord “bad tenants” lists found

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Hundreds of other Edmonton tenants have been blacklisted by local landlords, raising concerns from the Alberta privacy watchdog and fears from some tenants that such lists could deter them from finding housing.

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After a story about a Facebook “don’t rent” list of more than 440 supposedly “bad renters,” Postmedia gained access to a second Facebook group with a similar list.

The 1,100-member private group “Edmonton and area Landlords Only” had a catalog of more than 470 names, of which about 350 are not on the first list.

One tenant on both lists is Melissa Bigstone. After three months of searching and viewing more than 100 properties before she was offered a lease, she wonders if the Facebook groups offer an explanation.

“I think this is why we couldn’t get a seat, because I was blacklisted,” she said in an interview. “The amount of places I went to see, it’s just weird that I wouldn’t get hired.”

A screenshot of the
A screenshot of the “Edmonton and area Landlords Only” Facebook group, which until recently contained a blacklist of tenants in the area. (Screenshot: Facebook.)

Bigstone acknowledged that her rental history is not good.

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She said she struggled with addiction and trauma, was evicted three times and at one point was homeless.

But Bigstone said she’s not the same person anymore thanks to treatment for her addiction and finding her Christian faith. She said she has been sober for over two and a half years, working full-time with youth and returning to college in the fall.

While she feels sorry for landlords dealing with troublesome tenants, she doesn’t think tenants are blacklisted.

“I am a really responsible renter and I pay all my bills, but I was going through a really difficult time in my life,” she said. “I was in a place of hopelessness and helplessness because of my addiction. I wasn’t the best person when I was drinking and in pain, but it’s not fair to have my name on a list forever.”

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Amanda Desjarlais, contacted by Postmedia, was also surprised to learn that her name was on two lists – although she probably isn’t.

Her family situation doesn’t match the description in the landlord group, but she fears it will affect her anyway.

Edmonton tenant Melissa Bigstone was surprised to learn that she was included in two so-called
Edmonton tenant Melissa Bigstone was surprised to learn that she was included in two supposedly “bad tenants” lists in two Facebook groups for Edmonton landlords. An edited screenshot of the Excel document obtained by Postmedia shows her name.

Group deleted

The ‘Edmonton and area Landlords Only’ Facebook group was founded in January 2018. It appears to have been removed after Postmedia reached out to administrators for comment.

Administrator Cassie Herrera said her involvement was minimal.

“I’m in the process of taking the group down because I don’t want to be involved in this … I don’t want to be involved in anything that is (possibly) illegal,” she said in a Facebook post.

Herrera became an administrator a day after the group was founded. She asked members to submit names for the “bad tenants” list in May 2020.

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Co-administrator Candice Mitchell also said she had minimal involvement, although she posted lists in May 2020 stating “updated guide to bad tenants”.

Former Facebook group admin
Former administrator of Facebook group “Edmonton and Area Landlords Only” blacklists tenants. (Screenshot: Facebook)
Cassie Herrera, former Facebook group administrator
Cassie Herrera, former administrator of the “Edmonton and area Landlords Only” Facebook group, writes about making a list of bad tenants. (Screenshot: Facebook)

Personal problems

Blacklists of tenants probably in violation of privacy laws such as Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), according to Alberta’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

But other landlord groups, such as the more than 4,000-member Alberta Landlord Community on Facebook, are also at risk of violating privacy rules, according to OIPC spokesman Scott Sibbald.

“Finding people out of curiosity as a private individual is different from looking for people for a business purpose as a landlord. PIPA requires a reasonable purpose for searching or collecting personal information, collecting personal information must be limited to a reasonable extent and generally requires consent,” Sibbald wrote in an email.

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“Even with consent, determining the accuracy of information on social media remains a challenge.”

The Alberta Landlord Community group does not have a “don’t rent” list, but uses hashtags. The #landlordreferencelist tag, which includes posts including tenant names and photos, had more than 350 posts last week.

Co-founder MacKenzie Wilson – who also runs the Alberta Landlord Community website – did not directly answer Postmedia’s questions about fairness and privacy issues, but replied on behalf of himself and co-founder Chris Noble about the posts.

“From time to time, our volunteer community hosts may miss inappropriate posts from the 4,000 free community members. Thank you for bringing this to my attention so we can remove such posts.”

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However, group admins, including Wilson, have also shared warnings about tenants.

Noble has posted several such posts and appears to have screened an applicant using the hashtag #landlordreferencelist.

Chris Noble, a Facebook group admin
Chris Noble, an administrator of the “Alberta Landlord Community” Facebook group, asks group members if they know of a tenant. (Edited screenshot: Facebook)

Should rules be changed?

Trevor Didier rents out two properties in Edmonton. While he wants to be compassionate, some tenants have skipped rent for months and caused thousands of dollars in damage, he said. Didier believes that landlords should have access to a national database of problem tenants.

“There is a housing crisis… but these bad tenants are ruining it for other people and taking advantage of mom and dad (landlords),” he said. “I don’t mind that they don’t pay rent. I’m willing to work with people… (but) at some point I really don’t want to go to work, so I’m housing people for free, right? … I shouldn’t be a charity.”

Laura Murphy of the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness said “don’t rent” lists create additional barriers and are a human rights issue.

“People are having such a hard time finding affordable housing,” she says. “This isn’t going to help our housing crisis and our homeless crisis, but it does speak to the need for more regulation…that’s protecting tenant safety.”

[email protected]

@laurby

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