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Colton Roberts, who referred to himself as the Wolf of Burrard Street on his Instagram page, was the subject of a recent order by B.C.'s real estate watchdog to stop his alleged unlicensed activity in the Vancouver's rental property market.

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B.C.’s provincial real estate watchdog has ordered a young man to immediately cease managing high-end Vancouver rental properties without a licence as it investigates whether he collected security deposits and then cancelled agreements without returning the money.

The Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate recently issued an urgent order against Colton Roberts and his two companies after four groups of tenants complained last year to the agency, which investigates unlicensed real estate activity. Mr. Roberts, 24, who cultivated an image of a globe-trotting playboy on his Wolf of Burrard Street Instagram page, says his actions were the result of his poor communication while living in Spain last summer and that he has returned any money owed.

The superintendent’s directive called on Mr. Roberts, Renters Management Inc. and Bluhome Properties to stop offering his services immediately, provide a full list of clientele and a detailed breakdown of any rents or deposits he is currently holding.

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The real estate superintendent alleges that Mr. Roberts and his companies claimed to manage properties without the property owner’s knowledge and that he collected security deposits for units and then cancelled these rental agreements without refunding this money – which is typically half a month’s rent.

The office plans to hold a hearing into his alleged activities and are asking his former clients to contact the agency, said spokesperson Mykle Ludvigsen. Provincial law allows the superintendent to fine a corporation $500,000 or a person $250,000 for unlicensed activity.

A prominent tenant advocacy group says renters have been hard hit during this pandemic and that landlords and tenants should only deal with licensed managers to avoid problems.

On Monday, Mr. Roberts told The Globe and Mail in a phone interview that he ceased all activity in the sector after learning of the order and has given back any of the deposits owed. He said he started managing properties when he obtained a licence to do so in April, 2018, while working for developer Wall Financial, on Vancouver’s Burrard Street. But, he said he continued managing rentals after he lost his licence a year later.

”There’s not a good excuse; I should have communicated better,” Mr. Roberts said of his alleged actions. “I was never intending to withhold their money.”

He added that last summer he failed to reply promptly to e-mails from a group of tenants distraught that they could not get security deposits back from properties they did not end up renting from him and his companies. He said he was in Ibiza with his partner and, upon returning to Vancouver, gave them their money back within a week.

Israel Trujillo Quintero, a software engineer who is one of the people to complain to the real estate watchdog, disputes that timeline and told The Globe that Mr. Roberts only returned the money after he and other prospective tenants contacted the Vancouver Police Department, which he said opened a fraud case. He said he and others were further incensed when they saw Mr. Roberts appearing to have a great time vacationing during this period.

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A VPD spokesperson declined to comment.

Mr. Trujillo Quintero said he and two friends found an online listing for a penthouse in Vancouver’s wealthy Kerrisdale neighbourhood and jumped on the opportunity, handing Mr. Roberts a half month’s rent – $1,850 – last May before a planned tenancy beginning in June.

Mr. Roberts ignored the trio’s calls and blocked their numbers and, in the end, they found the unit was rented to someone else, Mr. Trujillo Quintero said. He and his two friends would have been homeless if their landlord at the time didn’t let them stay in their existing unit.

Rob Patterson, legal advocate and lawyer at Vancouver’s Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said landlords should think twice before entering into informal arrangements with someone claiming they will find them tenants. If there is an issue with a tenancy arranged by a third party, the landlord is ultimately “going to be on the hook for it at some level” if tenants are wronged, he said.

Mr. Patterson said the pandemic has not affected the number of renters asking his non-profit to help them with landlord issues. He said calls increased slightly in the summer after a provincial ban on evictions was lifted.

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