At the café table, Vincent Ranger is not trying to play the hero. If his friends hadn’t insisted, I don’t know if he would have met us. In any case, he would never have called us.
What this young lawyer (admitted to the Bar in 2012) has just accomplished is worthy of a big hug from Themis, goddess of Justice.
In the case of which he refuses to be the star, the best and the worst of our judicial system are concentrated.
The worst: the incredible difficulty of the simple citizen in defending himself against an exploiter. Institutional indifference in the face of something that is obviously abusive, but too complicated, too long. Police, lawyers, courts… Sorry, no time, bad paper, look elsewhere.
The best: the complete dedication of a lawyer who decided that justice would be done. And who does this pro bonothat is to say free of charge.
Me Ranger wasn’t particularly trying to avoid boredom by getting stuck into a rotten affair. After brilliant studies, he was a researcher at the Court of Appeal and specialized in pure law, so to speak: drafting appeal briefs and complex procedures. But from time to time, he volunteers for the Mile End Legal Clinic. Usually pretty simple stuff.
In August 2018, a woman came to see him. She owns a unit in a building of 119 apartments in Montreal. She says she is being harassed by the owner of the building. Nothing special so far… Until the young lawyer stuck his nose into the Byzantine legal structure of the building and the swamp of litigation in which it all was immersed.
“I realized it was a real basket of crabs,” he said. It was a catastrophic case on a human level, and complex on a legal level. »
In this building where three-quarters of the people are tenants, Maher Balabanian sold, from 2007 to 2013, between 40 and 50 of the 119 units. A seemingly good deal for owners who are not rolling in gold: the apartments were sold between $100,000 and $200,000.
The problem is that these apartments were sold in “undivided” co-ownership. In other words, these are not separate “condos”, but a portion of the total property – from 0.5% to 1%. Already, it is not very clear and easy to manage legally.
Second problem, which follows from the first: banks do not lend for this type of arrangement. No problem: Mr. Balabanian is also a mortgage lender. For a down payment of 20%, or even 10%, it finances the purchase. Isn’t that beautiful? No, it’s not.
Because, third problem: in the event of a dispute, the contract provides that you must contact an arbitrator. At the expense of the person complaining. And sometimes, Mr. Balabanian imposes “fines”. For an insult (he was called “Pharaoh” once). For entering the garage too quickly by bike. Etc. Do you want to contest? You have to go see the referee. Otherwise, the fine is added to the costs.
Better yet: Mr. Balabanian being the owner of nearly 80% of the building, he is in the majority at the meeting of co-owners. In any case, the contract generally provides for the transfer of voting rights in its favor.
In short, the building is a sort of absolute monarchy.
Beware of anyone who files a complaint in this very, very poorly maintained building: they will cut off the power, they will shout at them, they will cause them a thousand miseries, they will be pursued…
When this woman comes to see Me Ranger, in 2018, and as he becomes aware of the extent of the legal quagmire, he sees the degree of difficulty. He doesn’t yet know that he will have to devote more than 1000 hours to it. He cannot imagine that, twice, someone will come and break a window in his house with a hammer, or that a brick will smash a window in his house another time. There is no evidence that these intimidation tactics are linked to the case, obviously. But according to the latest news, the police were not troubled by these threats against a judicial officer.
Still, the lawyer took the plunge. He fought. At length. Hardly. And on January 15, Judge Janick Perreault of the Superior Court agreed with him across the board.
The judge ordered the legal sale of the building for around ten million and the payment of substantial compensation to 20 victims of Balabanian. In total, compensation of 5.9 million in compensation and damages and 1.3 million in interest will be taken from the sale proceeds.
“Without Me Vincent Ranger who completed a mandate pro bono, this dispute would seem to have had no outcome,” wrote the judge, stunned by the bad faith of Balabanian, who carried out “a campaign of judicial exhaustion” of small owners. He “deliberately orchestrated harassment and violated several fundamental rights (…) with the aim of enriching himself at their expense”.
Why did he do it?
“Faced with the misery of these people, almost all of whom have immigrant backgrounds, I could not let them down. They come from Eastern Europe and the Maghreb, and they didn’t understand that things like that could happen in Quebec. I was a little embarrassed as a Quebecer, and I couldn’t accept that there was no remedy. I wanted to convince them that we could achieve this. »
A “happy ending” which at the same time illustrates how difficult it is to counter abuse before our judicial system. To be considered “abusive,” behavior must almost reach a psychiatric level. And again: without Me Ranger, these abuses would never have been stopped. There is, however, a notary who signed “legal” contracts, but which open the door to all kinds of abuse. A mandatory arbitration clause had a big advantage for Balabanian: it privatized his legal affairs with his co-owners.
There are police officers who have shrugged their shoulders at this “civil” matter – although it has the air of economic crime and criminal harassment. Not to mention that in court, the case will be tossed from one judge to another, depending on Balabanian’s cheating.
There is no doubt: without the commitment of this lawyer, justice would never have been served. He did it for these 20 people, who would never have had the means to lead this fight.
But he did it for us too, if you ask me, since each injustice corrected makes this Earth run a little better.