07/02/2013 09:29 EDT | Updated 09/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Family loses life savings in rent-to-own debacle

An Ottawa family of eight is among a group of families and investors who claim a rent-to-own company scammed them out of more than $2.5 million, CBC News has learned.

Chantal Scott and James Cronier signed a contract with the company Golden Oaks Rent 2 Own Canada for a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot townhouse in the east Ottawa suburb of Orleans.

The couple had been living in a small public housing unit with their six children and said they could not afford a larger home. Then they heard the rent-to-own company's radio advertisement and thought the idea was perfect for them.

The agreement, in the eyes of the couple, stated you pay a $10,000 down payment then $1,800 per month in rent, which would ultimately lead to purchasing the home in about five years.

The contract also stated the couple would receive the down payment back as a credit after they had officially purchased the home.

"We figured it was a great opportunity to be able to own a home that's bigger, and more suitable for a family of eight," said Scott. "So they showed us a whole bunch of houses."

3-day deadline to move, family says

The family moved into their new home on June 21, but the red flags immediately appeared.

A man, who the family could not identify, called them before they even had a night's sleep under their new roof to ask for 12 cheques. Scott said he claimed he needed the money to take a mortgage out on the home "immediately."

Scott said she then called the company's owner, Jean-Claude Lacasse, who also owns the parent company Golden Oaks Enterprises. After getting no answer, she called a lawyer who informed her Lacasse had multiple lawsuits filed against him.

The couple said they then got a call from an investor named Christopher Steeves. A statement of claim reveals Steeves is suing Golden Oaks Enterprises for $505,000 in damages. Scott says Steeves told them they had to move out.

"We were told to pack up and ship out," she said. "Thank God we contacted Ottawa Housing because our place was rented, adding the family is now unpacking back at its old housing unit."

"We would have been on the streets. We would have been a family of eight living nowhere because of this."

Lawsuits total $2.5M in damages

CBC News has learned 18 people have filed lawsuits against Lacasse in the past three months, adding up to $2.5 million.

Another investor, Umair Chaudhari, says he put $100,000 into Golden Oaks Enterprises and was promised a more than 30 percent return after 3 months plus his principal back. But he says he is still owed the money and plans on suing.

Scott, Cronier and their six children can't afford a lawyer to sue Lacasse, they say, so they contacted Ottawa police, who could not confirm an investigation is underway.

Owner promises refund Tuesday

Soon after the family spoke to CBC, Lacasse called Scott, claiming he would refund all their money by July 2. But the family continues to live out of boxes and suitcases.

"We had to take time off work," said Scott. "We're losing income for the week. This is hard on my kids. We transferred their schools.

"We said all our goodbyes to the area we were living in, and to go back it's kind of embarrassing. To have to explain this situation to people … everything is gone. Every penny in my account is gone.

"I explained to [police] I don't have weeks and I don't have months and I said somebody needs to put a stop to this …. It's every person's dream, and it becomes a nightmare."

Lacasse did not reply to CBC's requests for an interview through emails or phone messages. Nor did he answer the door when CBC News went to his home. As well, his office's door was locked and answering machine full.