A Vancouver realtor has been accused of threatening a local businessman after he denounced her for encouraging a bidding war on a house she is trying to flip for a client – in a deal he worries could lead to tax evasion.
The man says he was frightened for his life.
He reported the May 2 incident to the real estate industry regulator and Vancouver police, which are both investigating. He gave The Globe and Mail a recording of a threatening call – from a number connected to Layla Yang, a licensed realtor from Re/Max.
In the recording, a woman he said had identified herself as Ms. Yang warns him in Mandarin: "I'm telling you – people above me are from Harbin [China] gangs. Gangsters, right? You don't fucking want to be alive." That call was followed immediately by another, also in Mandarin, from an unidentified man, also recorded. That caller repeatedly demanded to know the businessman's address and told him, "You have lived for too long." The Globe had the recordings translated.
The Globe agreed not to name the alleged victim because of his fears. Ms. Yang declined to talk about any of this.
The incident reveals a dark side of the palpable tension in Vancouver over out-of-control house prices. In this case, the businessman says he believes shady practices and speculation in the real estate industry are hurting the Chinese community.
The man said the episode began when Ms. Yang's assistant, Mo Tao, phoned him to promote a west-side house in which he had expressed an interest. Ms. Yang had just listed it for $4.28-million, however, he said Ms. Tao told him that price was just a low-ball enticement to start a bidding war. He claims she told him he must offer at least $1-million more to be competitive, which he found offensive.
"I had no interest in playing this game, with multiple offers. I told her, you are crazy. You can't play a house like stocks. A house is to live in," said the man, who claims he simply wanted a new home for his family.
"I called her back and told her, I don't like your style … you are making Vancouver unlivable and unacceptable."
Ms. Tao said she recalls the businessman lost his temper and began yelling at her, and she did not understand why.
"He is just saying some bad words back to me – and I got really upset and I hung up the phone. Then a couple of minutes later, he called me back again," said Ms. Tao, who is also a licensed realtor. "I said … how can I help you? And he just kept saying some bad words to me."
Ms. Tao said she felt threatened and reported the incident to Ms. Yang. The businessman said Ms. Yang called him two hours later, and he recorded part of that exchange.
The multimillion-dollar house is near Point Grey, one of Vancouver's most popular areas for foreign investors and speculators. Records show Ms. Yang sold it once already this year – for $4.42-million. The new MLS listing classifies the home as owner-occupied. However, the buyer relisted it for sale with Ms. Yang just five days after taking possession. Sales records show the same investor flipped at least one other home last year, making a quarter-million-dollar profit in three months.
The businessman reporting the threats said he is concerned the owner will flip the newly listed property too, then claim it as a principal residence to avoid paying capital-gains taxes.
He said he told the realtors he expected them to apologize for trying to get him to "play their rigged game." He said he warned that if they did not, he would report their activities to the Canada Revenue Agency.
His phone records indicate the first threatening call came after 10 p.m., from a number used by Ms. Yang's sister. Ms. Tao confirms Ms. Yang was with her sister that night. The alleged victim says the caller identified herself as Layla Yang, but he did not record that part, because her call was unexpected. Before warning him about her gangster connections, the woman in the recording says, "I'm telling you – don't … cause me troubles," possibly a reference to reporting her to the tax authorities.
"To threaten my family and my safety is unacceptable," said the man, who adds he was in shock. He again compared the activity to trading on the stock market. "I was just telling them my true feelings … if you play stock games, you should pay taxes."
Ms. Yang's office sent several text messages to The Globe explaining why she would not comment. "We suggest you contact police not Layla Yang office for this matter. Layla Yang is fully engaged in business day and night and thank you for contacting and trusting our team! We have to dealing with our other business now."
"Let's make a Hollywood movie out of this! Pls contact police as needed."
The alleged victim said he called 911 soon after the calls on the Monday night.
"I was awake the whole night … but they [police] didn't come," he said, adding that a Vancouver police constable came by the next night. "I told them, when you don't come for 24 hours, I could be killed already."
He says the officer advised him to move to a hotel. Vancouver police refused to comment, because no charges have been laid. After The Globe contacted the police, the alleged victim said, two detectives called him in to give a video statement.
The businessman also complained to the Real Estate Council of B.C., the industry self-regulator. A lawyer from the council contacted him on Wednesday, asking for a copy of the phone recording.
"You complaint will now be assigned to a compliance officer here who will be in touch with you regarding the next steps to be taken," reads the e-mail from the regulator.
The businessman said that, as a Canadian citizen, he thinks the authorities should take his complaint – and the manipulation and speculation in Vancouver real estate – more seriously.
“I am a residential buyer. I am not a stock buyer. I buy to live,” he said. “Even in China, the government it would control this. I am not sure why they don’t here.”