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Politics Ottawa landlord warns against renting to foreign diplomats after U.S. embassy worker skips rent

A woman holds U.S. and Canadian flags in Ottawa.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS

An Ottawa man is warning other landlords against renting their properties to foreign diplomats after a former tenant allegedly used her diplomatic immunity to avoid paying more than $8,000 in owed rent.

After renting his Ottawa properties to the diplomatic community for more than 25 years, landlord Rolf Baumann says there appears to be a growing trend of foreign diplomats skipping out on rent, walking away from leases and damaging rental units. A continuing legal battle with an American diplomat who once rented one of Mr. Baumann's properties has pushed him to his limit.

"It's not about money any more. It's about the principle. It's about letting the public know that there's an ongoing trend of bad behaviour with foreign diplomats and it has to stop," Mr. Baumann said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

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"I have to warn other landlords, investors and even people who go under contract for any purposes with any diplomat who has diplomatic immunity, that they are at high risk of not getting paid."

Mr. Baumann said he has been trying to recoup $8,625 – or two months worth of rent – from Betsy Zouroudis, who works at the U.S. embassy, since last year. The problems started when other tenants in Mr. Baumann's high-end townhouse made a noise complaint against Ms. Zouroudis. After repeated complaints, Mr. Baumann asked Ms. Zouroudis to move out; he says she agreed to vacate the unit in May, 2017.

However, when Mr. Baumann went to show the unit to a new potential tenant, he discovered that Ms. Zouroudis was still living there. After consulting with the U.S. embassy, Mr. Baumann agreed to allow Ms. Zouroudis to stay until September, 2017.

Mr. Baumann said Ms. Zouroudis then moved out without warning in July, refusing to pay the two months of remaining rent. He said he couldn't rent the unit to anyone else, as Ms. Zouroudis kept the key until October.

He took Ms. Zouroudis to the Landlord and Tenant Board, which ordered her to pay Mr. Baumann $8,625 in unpaid rent – $4,225 for each month, plus $175 in legal fees. She did not pay.

In January, Mr. Baumann received a letter from Ms. Zouroudis's lawyer claiming that her diplomatic status exempts her from having to pay the money.

"Ms. Zouroudis is an an agent of a foreign state and as such enjoys immunity from civil matters throughout Canada," wrote Murray Snider, Ms. Zouroudis's laywer.

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Mr. Snider cited the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which exempts foreign diplomats from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution in their host country. The convention also requires diplomatic agents to respect the laws of the host country.

Mr. Baumann is taking the matter to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in February, where he will ask a judge to garnish Ms. Zouroudis's salary in an attempt to recoup the money.

Ms. Zouroudis did not respond to The Globe's request for comment.

According to her LinkedIn profile, she still works as an executive assistant in the U.S. embassy's political section. An embassy spokesperson said they would not comment on a private lease agreement.

Global Affairs Canada said the government expects foreign representatives from any country to respect Canadian laws and regulations.

"We expect that residential lease agreements signed by foreign representatives will be negotiated and executed in good faith, and that all reasonable steps will be taken to comply with Canadian laws and regulations, including those relating to the termination of leases," spokeswoman Amy Mills said in a statement.

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