In 2015, Josh Hira was trying to find an affordable home in Toronto — on a tight budget, for a family of four.
He recalled meeting a "well-dressed" man at a Coffee Time in Vaughan after spotting a Kijiji ad about rent-to-own services.
Hira said the outgoing, talkative Chris Parik promised he could find the low-income family — including Hira's girlfriend, mom, and sister — a house to rent for $1,600 a month, through a deal where part of the monthly payments for rent would go towards a down payment for a mortgage on the house in 10 years.
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The 22-year-old dishwasher said he paid Parik $500 for his services. In the months that followed, Hira claims Parik didn't find the family a suitable house, didn't give back the money, and has since been impossible to reach.
A CBC Toronto investigation has uncovered multiple people who also claim they have lost hundreds of dollars to Parik while he was allegedly offering to help them find apartments and operating a rent-to-own scheme that is being investigated by the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO).
RECO, the regulatory body for real estate in the province, told CBC Toronto it "opened an investigation into his conduct" after receiving complaints about Parik in late 2016 and 2017 while he was registered as a salesperson under the Real Estate Business and Brokers Act.
In a statement, RECO alleges Parik operated an independent rent-to-own scheme out of York Region targeting people "who could neither afford, nor qualify to purchase a home."
6 complainants to real estate regulator
So far, six complainants have alleged to RECO that Parik charged an initial fee of $595, failed to provide any further service, and then refused to return the fee — a total loss of more than $3,500 to the complainants (Hira is not one of them).
On Jan. 31, after the RECO investigation was already underway, Parik terminated his registration under the Real Estate Business and Brokers Act, which means he's not currently legally permitted to trade in real estate.
The act explicitly states that "trade" includes real estate transactions involving not just sales, but also leases or rentals.
CBC Toronto has learned Parik was previously affiliated with several real estate companies — including Century 21, RE/MAX, and Delgro Capital Corp. — and all three separately confirmed Parik is no longer connected to their companies.
What is a rent-to-own arrangement?
It's exactly what it sounds like: A tenant signs an Option to Purchase agreement with a homeowner to pay a fee in exchange for the right to buy the home later, at a predetermined price. When the tenant pays the rent each month, a portion of that goes to the fee — and, in theory, a down payment on the future mortgage they'll obtain at a set point in time.
It's meant to be a win-win situation. A tenant who might not be able to buy the home right away, either because of a lack of funds or a low credit score, has time to build up their credit and save up the down payment while living in the home. The homeowner, on the other hand, gets peace of mind knowing they're making money off the deal.
That's the best case scenario, though. The deals can get messy and complicated — and that's if they close — and middlemen taking a piece of the pie can help turn a lucrative arrangement sour.
At the end of March, RECO laid eight charges pertaining to Parik's conduct, "specifically for accepting commission or other remuneration for trading in real estate from someone other than the brokerage that employed him, as well as failing to deliver required copies of agreements to his employing brokerage."
The investigation and subsequent charges this year may also not be Parik's first run-in with RECO.
A man named "Christopher Parik, also known as Chris Parik" was previously fined $5,000, payable to RECO by July 13, 2016, over several Code of Ethics breaches, including entering into an agreement in which he agreed to pay complainants $6,000 respectively but did not fulfil the agreement.
"In doing so, Parik failed to be financially responsible in the course of a trade in real estate," reads the disciplinary decision.
'I help lots of people find apartments'
When briefed on the accusations against Parik, real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder explained why the alleged behaviour is out of line with the real estate profession. For one, he said, anyone trading in real estate without a licence is "violating the code."
"A real realtor would not be taking money up front from a tenant," he added. "They're not going to waste their time on somebody who has very bad credit, because no landlord is going to accept them."
Rent-to-own programs specifically, Weisleder continued, can be a "pretty good" solution for certain tenants when done properly, but can also be easily abused.
Parik himself, however, has a different take on the allegations against him.
In several phone calls on Tuesday with CBC Toronto, he claimed to be in the property management field, working throughout the GTA including in Oshawa, Milton and Barrie.
"I help lots of people find apartments," Parik said, adding he's had a "relationship" with social community housing for the last seven years. One person interviewed for this story said she got Parik's card from her neighbourhood community health centre.
Parik said he takes a "retainer" from clients that he returns if he doesn't find them a place within 30 days.
He also said he terminated his licence on Jan. 31 because of debt and a messy divorce.
"I have been helping people since 2004, and I've never had any issues," Parik said. "I guess there's people that feel they have been taken advantage of, but that's not true."
'He ripped me off, he scammed me'
As for the eight charges against him from RECO, Parik said he is "pleading innocent" and does "not have any copies of the complaints from RECO."
Meanwhile, RECO said Parik is currently offering services under the domain name TurnkeyInvestment.ca, despite not being registered.
That's the company one Etobicoke resident said was on Parik's business card when she dealt with him earlier this month.
The woman, a mother of two who doesn't want her name used due to fears about her safety, said she was looking for a new apartment after being evicted.
She said Parik told her there would be a $169.30 fee for his apartment-hunting services, but claimed he could find her an affordable place despite her low income through Ontario Works. Parik, she said, never asked for any paperwork, like a credit report or other financial information.
Her gut told her it seemed too good to be true — but Parik's punctuality, good looks, and "fancy suit" won her over.
"With his spiked up blonde hair and blue eyes, he looked like a magazine cover," she recalled.
After that meeting in her home on May 4, the "first and only" apartment Parik suggested was listed on a bed bug registry, the woman said in a phone interview.
"He ripped me off," she said. "He scammed me."
"I've had panic attacks for the last two months trying to find a place to live," the woman added, her voice breaking as she began to cry during the phone call.
"Everywhere I've gone is terrible ... I just want a clean home for me and my kids, and he took my $170, and he knew the situation I was in. It makes me sick. I just want my money back — I could use it to buy groceries."
The woman said Parik has since promised to return the money.
Lauren Pelley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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