Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Foreign students to get big bucks back

Recruiter must reimburse trio over 'intolerable' conditions

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An ex-University of Winnipeg international student recruiter must pay tens of thousands of dollars to three Chinese students who prepaid him up to $3,000 a month for room, board and other services, only to wind up living in "intolerable" conditions.

Manitoba's Court of Appeal has refused to hear Ronald Kin Sang Chong's case, meaning he's on the hook to repay nearly $40,000 to former U of W Collegiate students Ching Man Wan, Yan Ting Lai and Wai Tsang, his former tenants.

The Hong Kong natives prepaid to live at Chong's Gillingham Avenue home for the 2011-12 school year.

Tsang and Wan forked over $25,000 and Wan $27,500 for a basement bedroom, meals, tutoring and transportation, to be provided by Chong.

What they actually got fell far short of expectations, however, prompting the students to pack up and move out without notice.

They also took Chong to Manitoba's Residential Tenancies Branch (RTB) in an effort and get some of the money back.

The three students told the RTB virtually the same alarming story.

Money was forwarded from China by wire transfer for Chong to provide a range of services to the students.

Once in Winnipeg, the trio said they lived in an "intolerable" environment, which included being watched by a security camera, fed unhealthy leftovers instead of fresh meals, their use of electricity limited and access to their rooms restricted by Chong.

Chong has been battling against their compensation claims, asserting he was actually providing them meals and lodging for free as a "cultural service."

A written agreement was produced as evidence, and contained a clause saying the prepayments wouldn't be returned "under any circumstances."

RTB officer Michelle Saper found Chong's "cultural service" claim to be "highly implausible."

She ordered him to reimburse the students for the rent they'd prepaid for the period after they moved out on Feb. 6, 2012.

Saper found Chong tried to circumvent Manitoba's Residential Tenancies Act.

He interfered with the students' "quiet enjoyment" of their rooms, failed to provide them with full access and imposed "unreasonable rules" on them, the board found.

"I find that (Chong) attempted to arrange the agreement such that he would be shielded from the Residential Tenancies Act," Saper wrote.

Chong, who saw his recruitment contract with the U of W cancelled after a complaint was raised with the school, appealed to the RTB's oversight tribunal, the Residential Tenancies Commission.

After a four-day hearing, it upheld the earlier repayment ruling, despite Chong's protests he'd been denied procedural fairness on several fronts.

For its part, the commission found the students had clear cause to walk away from the deal without notice because the accommodations they were provided were "uninhabitable" under Manitoba tenancy laws.

Chong took the case to the Court of Appeal in December, claiming the commission had fumbled it.

Justice Barbara Hamilton has now shot Chong down on all fronts, refusing to grant him leave for a full hearing.

"The commission provided the tenants and (Chong) the full opportunity to be heard. (He) knew the information and evidence before the commission and had full opportunity to refute it and address it," Hamilton wrote in an 11-page decision.

Hamilton also ordered Chong to pay the students' legal costs.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2014 B5

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