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Landlord lives well but owes old tenants, court told

Whitney Brown and Andrew O'Sullivan from the Pivot Legal Society hang wanted posters of George Wolsey at Main and Hastings streets in Vancouver September 4, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A former Downtown Eastside landlord who owes his old tenants more than $18,000 but says he cannot afford to pay lives in a beautiful new home that spans several acres, a former employee has told provincial court.

The statement was made Monday in the case of George Wolsey. The Residential Tenancy Branch last spring ordered him to pay the money to 10 former tenants, who had complained of suites overrun with bedbugs, cockroaches and mice, and plumbing and heating that didn't work.

Their lawyers have accused Mr. Wolsey of doing whatever it takes to avoid payment, from failing to appear in court to refusing the service of documents. An arrest warrant was issued for him in September, after which he turned himself in.

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The court heard Monday from Kevin Weinmeister, who said he worked for Mr. Wolsey until they had a falling out a couple of months ago.

Mr. Weinmeister shared a story of visiting Mr. Wolsey's home last Christmas. He described the property as "really nice" and said it had a barn and horses. He indicated his former boss owned other properties as well and said he recently bought a boat for sport fishing.

Mr. Wolsey previously lost his pharmacy licence for forcing residents at the buildings he owned to get their methadone prescriptions filled through him. But Mr. Weinmeister said Mr. Wolsey is again running a pharmacy, near the Pattullo Bridge. He said the proceeds from that pharmacy go straight to Mr. Wolsey. Mr. Weinmeister said one of his tasks was to seek out people who would have their prescriptions filled there.

Daniel Barker, Mr. Wolsey's lawyer, said outside court that the purpose of the hearing is to determine whether his client has the ability to pay the money he owes and he hasn't heard of any change in his client's position.

Mr. Wolsey was not in court Monday. His lawyer said he was undergoing an MRI after suffering a fall. Mr. Barker said Mr. Wolsey had intended to show up, and was at court in March for the last scheduled hearing. He said any suggestion Mr. Wolsey deliberately missed Monday's hearing was untrue.

The Residential Tenancy Branch has ruled Mr. Wolsey owes $18,163.75 to the tenants for the infestations and health and safety risks.

Mr. Wolsey sold the buildings – the Wonder and Palace hotels – in 2012, after the city said it would seek an injunction. Lawyers for the tenants have said the buildings were believed to be worth between $3-million and $4-million combined.

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Mr. Wolsey's case marked the first time an arrest warrant was issued against a Vancouver landlord.

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