SAULT STE. MARIE — Lauri Hill knew the single detached house she had been renting on Pardee Avenue was sold in June, but for weeks, she says she had no idea who her new landlord was.
Left in the dark, Hill says she and her adult son, Keith, finally tracked down a lead after obtaining a land registry document for the property and reaching out to the new owner.
“We didn’t exactly know who owned the property — I had to kind of chase them,” Hill said. “I had to go to city hall to find out who I was supposed to be paying rent to, because I didn’t know.”
Within 24 hours of establishing contact, Hill received an email on Aug. 4 from the new property owner, informing her that she’s being slapped with an N4 notice for non-payment of rent. She was shocked.
“They threatened me with eviction because I hadn’t paid for previous months, but they never bothered to tell me — no one,” Hill said, the frustration evident in her voice. “Apparently, a lawyer was supposed to send me a package.”
According to documents obtained by SooToday, Hill’s rental home was purchased in early June for $170,000 by a numbered company based in Hamilton: 14034686 Canada Inc. That same numbered company from southern Ontario has scooped up six other houses in Sault Ste. Marie, records show.
But those six properties are just the tip of the iceberg.
SooToday has confirmed that the same director of 14034686 Canada Inc. — a businessman named Nels Moxness — is also the director of 24 other numbered companies that own dozens of houses in Sault Ste. Marie. All told, his companies have purchased 129 properties, with the majority situated in and around the downtown core.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Moxness is the head of Velux Canada, a supplier of roof windows and skylights based in Oakville, Ont., as well as chairman of the Danish Canadian Chamber of Commerce. He is also one of two directors of Crescendo Property Management (CPM), a Hamilton-based company that manages a number of residential and commercial properties throughout Ontario.
Last fall, CPM hired a local property management company to perform work on some of the properties owned by Moxness’ numbered companies. Odd Job Jacks was one of the Sault contractors hired by the local property manager to perform some snow removal and landscaping.
Kurtis McDermid, president of Odd Job Jacks — and a Ward 3 candidate in this year’s municipal election — says the vast majority of the properties his company worked at are situated in the downtown core, and a number of them appear to be vacant.
“Some of them have been boarded up, some of them look like they’re vacant and unkempt even before they bought them,” said McDermid. “I mean, they’re definitely on the lower end of households. They’re not buying nice properties by any means.”
As SooToday has recently revealed in a series of articles, an increasing number of homes in Sault Ste. Marie are being scooped up by southern Ontario investors. While some properties are being rented to tenants, others are vacant and boarded up, triggering numerous complaints to the city’s bylaw department.
McDermid said he is concerned about the influx of out-of-town property owners, and plans to highlight the issue during the municipal election campaign.
“They’re manipulating our local market, and it’s not going well for everybody,” McDermid said. “[Properties are] getting snatched up and rental prices are going crazy, the house prices are going crazy.
“Those houses are not going to anyone, they’re just sitting there.”
When SooToday reached out to Nels Moxness for comment, a St. Catharines lawyer replied on his behalf. In his email, Josh McDougall suggested his client is not the same Nels Moxness who owns property here. “I can indicate that my client is not listed on any title of property in Sault Ste. Marie,” he wrote.
“Given these set of facts, you are hereby directed to cease and desist contacting Mr. Moxness, his known or assumed business and personal contacts in an attempt to reach him, and to not include his name or any undocumented and/or unsubstantiated statements, materials or ‘facts’ in any publication,” the email continued.
SooToday has confirmed that McDougall’s client is indeed the same Nels Moxness whose numbered companies own houses in the Sault. Publicly available federal incorporation documents for both Velux and some of the numbered companies list the same Burlington address for Nels Moxness, while incorporation documents for Crescendo Property Management and all the numbered companies show the same registered office address: 1 Hunter St. E. in Hamilton.
Although Moxness declined to comment for this article, his co-director at Crescendo Property Management — a relative named Mathew Moxness — did respond to an interview request. He told SooToday that he disagrees with McDermid’s contention that many of their properties are intentionally sitting empty.
“We’re not looking to do that at all. I don’t think it would be beneficial at all to have vacant properties,” Mathew Moxness said. “I can only speak for us, but that’s not at all our intention. We’re looking to provide good homes for people, and a lot of times, affordable housing, whether it’s newcomers, whether it’s with these agencies.
“We’re definitely not looking to have vacant homes,” he continued. “If anything, they cause more problems being vacant.”
Last year, Mathew Moxness issued a press release announcing his company’s expansion into Northern Ontario, including Sault Ste. Marie, with plans to target “aging and underperforming properties” and “revitalize them.”
"We think it's really important to preserve the unique value of aging supply while also providing renters with contemporary suites," Moxness said in that press release. "We plan to follow suit in underperforming markets throughout the country."
Moxness told SooToday that CPM both owns and manages a number of properties in the Sault, but wouldn’t disclose how many. When asked if there’s a timeframe for the properties to be fixed up and rented out, Moxness says every Sault property managed by CPM has a “different story.”
“We’ve had property managers threatened with a hatchet, for example. So, these certain areas come with their own challenges — in a case like that where you have to wait for the landlord-tenant board and police and so on, it could take longer,” he said. “So, the ball’s not always in our court, and we try and work with the city and with the tenants as much as we can to keep things overall in a good position, but it’s often difficult depending on who they are. Like that guy with a hatchet was a really unique scenario — they had guns in there, they had hatchets in there.”
At one time, Moxness says, CPM even hired a private security firm to patrol the properties.
“We’ve been broken into a number of times, so we keep trying to fix it up and keep people out,” he said. “We’ve resorted to boarding things up or putting bars on windows until we were able to get people in there.”
Moxness adds that Crescendo is currently looking at a “couple builds around town” that would fall into the category of affordable housing.
“We’re working with city officials to sort of plan that out and get that going over the next short period of time,” he said. “So there won’t be only the existing stock that’s being renovated, but it will be an improvement with new towers being developed. It should be a good thing for everybody in town and to help the vacancy and help rent costs be at least a little more for people to choose from.
“I think that would help, at least for people looking to rent.”
Lauri Hill is not quite so convinced. Although she is paid up in full and no longer being threatened with eviction, she worries about the influx of out-of-town landlords and what the trend means for renters who call the Sault home.
“I don’t know where to turn,” she said. “Somebody in that mighty office downtown is supposed to be paying attention to what’s going on. People are buying up all these houses and not giving a sh— about the people that live here.”