NEWS

Apartment hunters targeted by Gander rental scam

09/30/2014 04:30 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST
A central Newfoundland couple is being accused of pocketing cash to rent space in a home they don’t own, while stiffing the actual property owner for $21,000 in unpaid bills.

Clarence and Darlene Wheeler moved out of the home on Melville Place in Gander earlier this month.

They left behind a trail of unhappy tenants and apartment hunters, along with the home’s actual owner, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and relies on his military pension.

Glen Rideout, who owns the home with his wife Trixie, said he can’t believe they were taken in by the Wheelers.

“Angry,” he said. “Sick to my stomach. Ill. Stressed. I really don’t handle stress that well. I just don’t trust anybody any more.”

Rideout told CBC Investigates that his wife handled the Gander rental property, and recently admitted to him that the Wheelers owed them $18,000 for a full year of unpaid rent, along with $3,000 in utilities bills.

​Rideout said his wife was “taken by these individuals to the point where she felt sorry for them,” and the situation has cost him his marriage.

“It’s not looking too good for the future for me,” he said. “I’ve got to move away.”

Contacted last week by CBC Investigates, Darlene Wheeler insisted that she and her husband Clarence have reached an agreement with the homeowners.

“We’ve got everything settled with Mr. Rideout,” Wheeler said.

But Rideout later denied any deal has been reached.

Darlene Wheeler acknowledged renting out space in a home that she herself didn’t own.

But she dismissed complaints made by past tenants.

“A lot of it has been made up,” she said.

Contact made on Facebook

Julia Kavanagh is one of those tenants.

She said she put up an ad on Facebook looking for a pet-friendly place to live in Gander, where she took a job as a teacher, and got a message back from Darlene Wheeler.

“I thought it was great, because it was a great price,” Kavanagh said. “She sent pictures so it looked really legit.”

Kavanagh said she reached an agreement with the Wheelers to move into the basement of the home.

But right before she was scheduled to move in a month ago, Kavanagh said she received a call from Darlene Wheeler informing her there was trouble moving out the tenants already living in the basement.

Wheeler offered to let Kavanagh stay upstairs with them in the interim.

Kavanagh accepted, on the condition the arrangement would be short term. But she said she was given “excuses and excuses” about ongoing delays, before deciding to leave.

She said the Wheelers owe her $1,200 she paid up front for rent and a damage deposit — money that hasn’t been returned, despite repeated promises.

“The people downstairs actually pulled me inside and told me that everything she had told me was a lie, and that they were never moving out,” Kavanagh said.

Happy to find somewhere to live

Chantal Dyke is one of those downstairs tenants.

She told CBC Investigates she was happy to find somewhere pet-friendly to live.

But after a few weeks, she began to question why there was no stove in the basement apartment, and wondered about the landlords.

“Their behaviour was very weird,” Dyke said.

Her step-father — Brian McKay, who did not live there — found the situation strange, and began to look into it.

He discovered that the Wheelers didn’t actually own the house, and it wasn’t zoned for an apartment.

McKay said the Wheelers posted an eviction notice soon after, saying they were converting the basement back into family rec room.

He said Darlene Wheeler still has the damage deposit, although they are planning action to get it back.

McKay said they have gone to the Mounties.

Gander RCMP declined to identify the subject of their investigation, but confirm they have received four complaints from women who transferred cash via e-mail to secure a place to rent in the town.

“Unbeknown to them, that place is actually rented,” Cpl. Pam Blackwood said.

Blackwood said some prospective tenants were being offered a room in the top part of the home, where the landlord also lived.

Others were offered accommodations in the basement. Blackwood said it was not a true basement apartment — and it was already occupied.

“But they’ve been offering that to rent as well,” Blackwood said.

“So they are getting deposits from people, saying 'yes you can move in, 'and then the people are finding out they can’t.”

Blackwood said a woman has been arrested and released on conditions, but no charges have been filed at this point.

Arrest warrants out west

This is not the first brush with the law for the Wheeler family.

According to court documents obtained by CBC Investigates, Clarence Wheeler is currently facing arrest warrants in both Alberta and Saskatchewan on fraud-related charges.

He was charged with making $3,000 in fraudulent cheque deposits at a Lloydminster bank just before Christmas 2012. A warrant was issued for Wheeler when he failed to appear in court in October 2013.

Clarence Wheeler was also charged with fraudulently obtaining lodgings from a hotel on the Saskatchewan side of Lloydminster in 2012. He also failed to appear in court on that charge, and a warrant was issued for him in Saskatchewan in 2013.

Asked if her husband had charges against him in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Darlene Wheeler replied: “That’s been taken care of.”

Pressed on whether it is the same person, Darlene Wheeler said: “Yes, but that has nothing to do with this.”

She later added: “What does my husband have to do with this? He is not wanted or nothing like that.”

Darlene Wheeler acknowledged she now knows she was not supposed to rent out the downstairs of the Melville Place home, but stressed she did not know that at the time.

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