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B.C. real-estate regulator suspends realtor for alleged ‘predatory’ practices

B.C.'s real-estate regulator has taken the rare step of issuing an emergency suspension on a Metro Vancouver realtor alleged to have targeted clients facing foreclosure on their properties with a predatory rent-to-own scheme.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Real Estate Council of British Columbia announced an immediate suspension of Kevindeep (Kevin) Singh Bratch and his company, Bratch Realty, for allegedly buying the homes of owners facing foreclosure for less than market value and then entering into rent-to-own agreements with those same people, who were not represented by realtors or lawyers.

None of the allegations from the B.C. Real Estate Council has been proven and Mr. Bratch couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

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"The terms were highly disadvantageous, to the point of the 'rent-to-buy program' being 'predatory' in nature," Robert Holmes, the chair of the council's discipline committee, wrote in his decision released on Tuesday. "Mr. Bratch offered sellers a lifeline, bailing them out of their immediate financial predicament with foreclosure proceedings, but in return, engineering the purchase of their property – whether in his name, [redacted] name or the name of a numbered company owned by [redacted] – at less than market value, using the vain hope that they could regain ownership of their property at substantially-higher prices."

The council alleges that, under this scheme, the previous owners paid Mr. Bratch rent that was more than double the mortgage payments he was making on these new properties. The council alleges that these tenants had no rights under the agreements to exercise options such as recovering their transferred equity. "These provisions are draconian," Mr. Holmes wrote.

Council investigators provided evidence that Mr. Bratch had used this tactic on two couples living in and around Vancouver and Mr. Holmes stated that seven other properties may have been involved in this scheme.

Mr. Bratch, licensed since 2011, did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

None of these allegations has been proven, but the council said an immediate licence suspension was necessary while it investigates the complaints further. Members of the public who had dealings with Mr. Bratch are asked to contact the council.

Mr. Holmes noted it was unfortunate that the suspension of the company's licence would also bar another realtor at the firm from practising, but that was outweighed by the risk to the public.

Mr. Holmes said the council initiated an investigation after an Oct. 15 news article in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News detailing an elderly couple's claim that they were evicted by Mr. Bratch after violating the terms of their rent-to-own agreement.

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Earlier this year, the council said it was struggling to clear a mountain of public complaints and would expected to carry more than 700 open disciplinary files into the current fiscal year, which began on July 1.

The council is in the midst of modernizing its complaints process as part of a continuing organizational overhaul that began last year, when the provincial government ended the real estate industry's decade of self-regulation after widespread problems were revealed in The Globe and Mail.

The council had been roundly criticized for slapping realtors on the wrist when they were caught engaging in cutthroat and illegal practices.

One of the key reforms is the ability of the council to levy fines up to a maximum of $250,000 against bad realtors, which is up from the previous maximum of just $10,000. A council spokesperson said Tuesday that no disciplinary decisions with these larger fines have been levied yet because they only apply to misconduct occurring after Sept. 30, 2016.

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