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Winnipeg woman warns financially distressed homeowners about man offering help

A Winnipeg woman is warning people who get behind on their mortgages and property taxes to be careful of anyone approaching them and offering help after she says a businessman, known for taking over titles to people's homes, wouldn't leave her alone.

Single mom Christina Van Somer lives in her deceased father's home with her four-year-old son. The title to the home isn't registered in her name, as her father died without a will.

She was facing a sale by the City of Winnipeg for years of unpaid property taxes last summer when she says Richard Boon contacted her.

"He just called me out of the blue at 9:30 at night," she said, "probably in late August and left a name and message. I didn't call him back. Then he actually showed up at my house."

She said Boon came to her door four to five times over the next three months.

"Basically, he said, 'We'll help you,'" she said. "'We'll try and get the house transferred over to your name, we won't charge you anything or it will be low-cost.'"

'He seems to just want my house'

The Public Trustee of Manitoba stepped in last December to help Van Somer, and that stopped the tax sale, but Van Somer said Boon came to her door with an offer to buy her house earlier this month.

"He just said, 'I'll give you $40,000 for the house,'" she said. "He seems to just want my house and I don't know why. The house isn't even in my name yet."

Van Somer did some research and a friend mentioned the name Richard Boon. She Googled him, found previous media coverage and realized the man at the door was him.

Dozens of Winnipeg homeowners have transferred title of their homes to Richard Boon and his associated companies for more than a decade. His business involves searching public land and tax registries to find prospective clients and then contacting them to lend them money.

While it's not illegal for Boon to operate in this way, many of his clients have taken him to court to regain ownership of their homes.

"In every case, there is a family whose home has been placed in someone else's name and who are fighting to keep the title to their home," said Rocky Kravetsky, a Winnipeg lawyer who was representing plaintiffs in two cases involving Boon.

Couple won right to buy home back

Kravetsky's clients in one of the two cases, Shawn and Roxanne Brown, recently won the right to buy their home back from Boon after fighting in court for more than a decade.

Their home was in foreclosure in 2002 and set to be auctioned by the bank. The court's reasons for judgment states that Boon approached them and they agreed to sign over their home as security for a $8,695 loan.

They admitted they didn't read the documents and were "simply grateful for to be getting financial assistance to resolve their dilemma," according to court documents.

The agreement stipulated that if the Browns missed any of the $1,000 per month rental payments to Boon's company, Daylight Capital Corp., he would have the right to sell the property.

After the Browns missed payments, the company tried to sell the home numerous times. Those sales were blocked by the Browns, according to the documents.

A judge found Boon did not explain "the precise nature of the documents that were being signed" and "he did not inform the plaintiffs that title to their home would immediately be transferred to Daylight."

The judge ruled that the Browns can regain title if they pay back the balance of the loan. Boon can still appeal the decision.

CBC News contacted Richard Boon and he declined an interview.

Be careful and see a lawyer, says land titles head

"If you are approached by someone who says they are here to help you, they usually are not," said Barry Effler, registrar-general of Manitoba's land titles office. He wouldn't comment directly on Boon's business activities.

"We issue a consumer alert with every initiating document on a tax sale or foreclosure," Effler said.

"Be careful, see a lawyer."

The registry investigates transactions in which there may be fraudulent or improper practice. They make recommendations and can refer the case to the Court of Queen's Bench.

"It can be a more timely and less expensive process than starting out in court," he said, adding that his office handles about 30 or 40 improper transactions per year out of more than 100,000 transactions.

"The bulk of the complaints are about two or three parties, but they are very active," he added.

"We always encourage that if you think there is something wrong with the transaction, you contact Land Titles and you contact the police. It's not always that you can't get your house back."

'These are people in trouble'

Kravetsky said the problem needs to be addressed by legislators, calling the current consumer protection "imperfect."

"These are people in trouble, people in trouble are vulnerable, people in trouble need the protection of legislation," he said.

"Do something about it. Sit down, scrutinize these documents. They can come up with legislation that can protect the public."

While she can't say she would have run into the same situation as the Browns, Van Somer said she's glad she didn't sign up with Boon. She is concerned for other people in her situation.

Van Somer said she hopes that with the Public Trustee's help, she'll be able to move on from the house she grew up in.

"So I can get a better place for me and my little man," she said.

If you have a tip for the CBC News I-Team, please call our confidential tip line at (204) 788-3744 or email iteam@cbc.ca. You can also send a message on Twitter to @cbciteam.