The Business Section

Meet the landlord

Nicole Sullivan has a story in the Post about a CBRM landlord who has informed his tenants he will “no longer be supplying oil” to their units because “the costs have quadrupled and this will no longer be part of your rental income.” (I think he means “no longer be part of your rent.” He’s the one with the rental income, after all.)

Sullivan reaches out to Service Nova Scotia to confirm that removing heat from rent is considered both a removal of service and a rent increase and:

If a landlord wishes to charge for heat where they didn’t before, that increased cost must not exceed two per cent a month. Regardless of the reason, tenants must be given four months’ notice of any increase in rent.

According to Sullivan’s story (which is based on a letter to a tenant posted anonymously on Facebook), the landlord, Ava K Holdings, not only failed to provide the necessary four months’ notice but raised rents from $1,250 to $1,500—a whopping 20% per month.

Ava K Holdings apartments, Sidella Drive, Sydney. (Source: Google Maps)

The province says tenants can file a complaint with the Residential Tenancies Program, but as Sullivan notes, complaints cannot be filed anonymously and the five tenants she spoke with asked not to be named “for fear of losing their homes”:

Some feared being subjected to tactics the landlord has allegedly used in the past with tenants who were behind on rent or considered problematic, as reported in the Post. These tactics included removal of front doors in winter and damage to Nova Scotia Power equipment which resulted in no electricity for the unit.

Sullivan doesn’t name the owner of Ava K Holdings, so I made a little visit to the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies and discovered he’s Chris Neville and he’s been in the rental business since at least 2019. (He’s also graced these pages before, back in March 2022 when I reported on his dispute with David Morgan of Celtic Air, with whom he co-owns a Quebec charter service called AixAir.)

Header from the LinkedIn profile of Chris Neville.

Neville’s LinkedIn profile refers to Ava K Holdings as a “Family office,” a term generally applied to a privately held company handling investments for a single, wealthy, family (I don’t think Ava K Holdings is a family office, I think it’s a garden-variety limited company) and his bio veers back and forth between the first and third person like a work of experimental fiction:

Chris Neville is a native of Sydney, Nova Scotia. He earned degree’s in Psychology and Marketing from Cape Breton University and an MBA in Finance from the University of New Brunswick. Chris has been an entrepreneur and business owner for over 22 years. He has started 8 companies since graduating university. Five of his companies have been acquired by competitors and two by publicly traded entities. A main focus of his business ventures has been Real Estate Development where he has amassed a 9 figure portfolio world wide.

Chris was a founding partner at Global Daily Fantasy Inc a public company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (Symbol: DFS) At Global Daily Fantasy prior to my exit he built the core team, created and executed on business plan and took the company public on the TSX.

After exiting Global Daily Fantasy Inc in December 2017, Chris launched a second public company with an influencer based online gambling strategy where I negotiated a sale for the shareholders of $630 MM. Currently I continue to build on my 300 apartment building portfolio and i’m aggressively working as a VC with start ups world wide.

Elsewhere, he says he owns “158 rental complexes across Sydney, North Sydney and Sydney Mines” and “104 Rental town house Properties in Nova Scotia” and is “always looking for more if the right buy is in the market place.

People defending the interests of landlords always focus on the little old lady renting out her basement or the couple renting out the apartment above their garage, but in this province, where there are 300,000 tenants and 6,000 landlords, Neville may be more representative of the species.


Wells, Wells, Wells

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued a Wells Notice to Meta Materials CEO George Palikaras and former CEO John Brda in relation to a previously disclosed investigation into (among other things) Meta’s merger with Torchilight Energy Resources—the merger that allowed it to go public with a valuation north of $1 billion and earned Nova Scotia’s now-defunct Innovacorp a whopping $100 million payday. (The merger I’ve discussed at length, starting here and here.)

A Wells Notice, according to Investopedia, is:

…a notification issued by regulators to inform individuals or companies of completed investigations where infractions have been discovered. It usually takes the form of a letter, which notifies recipients both of the broad nature of the violations uncovered as well as the nature of the enforcement proceedings to be initiated against the recipient.

Palikaras and Brda now have an opportunity to respond to the notice, by making a Wells Submission, but Investopedia suggests this isn’t always the best course of action:

A Wells Submission, and its contents, are public information, and as a result, most securities law attorneys may advise that making such a submission is not always to the prospective defendants’ best interests. Anything alleged in the Wells Submission can be used against the defendant in the enforcement proceedings; it can also be subpoenaed and used against the respondents in any other civil litigation brought against the defendants.

Meta Materials Logo

Meta acknowledged receipt of the notice in a July 25 filing with the SEC that stated:

If the SEC were to authorize an action against the Company and/or any of the individuals, it could seek an injunction against future violations of provisions of the federal securities laws, the imposition of civil monetary penalties, and other equitable relief within the SEC’s authority. The SEC could also seek an order barring the individuals from serving as an officer or director of a public company. In addition, the SEC could seek disgorgement of an amount that may exceed the Company’s ability to pay.

Meta says its board is “reviewing” the notices but has “not yet determined its next course of action.”

The company reported a net loss of $18.7 million for Q1 2023 and $79.1 million for the 12 months ended 31 December 2022. It has an accumulated deficit of $226.2 million as of 31 March 2023 and its most recent Form 10-Q states:

Our expectation to generate operating losses and negative operating cash flows in the future and the need for additional funding to support our planned operations, raise substantial doubt regarding our ability to continue as a going concern for a period of one year after the date that these condensed consolidated interim financial statements are issued.

In other news: on July 10, Meta Materials appointed Dan Eaton as its Chief Legal Officer.



The reason I continue to follow the Meta Materials saga, other than morbid fascination, is because a lot of public money has been invested in Meta (and also, if the SEC finds that Palikaras and Brda broke securities laws in merging their two companies, then Innovacorp profited from their lawbreaking).

It’s why I remain interested in Swarmio and why I was intrigued to read the latest about Tanya Seajay, late of Orenda Software Solutions, another recipient of significant government money and (according to ACOA) a “prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.”

Orenda’s one-of-a-kind software applied “numerical metrics to emotions, connections and associations with a brand” to provide “unique insight into just how well companies, their products, and their people are being perceived.” Or at least, that’s what it was doing in 2021 when ACOA invested $200,000 in it. The last time I wrote about it, it had been acquired by Switzerland’s SIX Group which characterized it as “a Canadian-based AI platform specializing in ESG and alternative data sets.”

And what do you know? Seajay has now reinvented herself as a “sustainability specialist,” “board advisor” and “thought leader” in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) approach to business and launched a new company (with a puzzling logo that apparently reads “7 Centre”):

Personally, I’m highly skeptical of ESG ratings, but I’ll allow Kenneth P. Pucker and Andrew King, who wrote about them in the Harvard Business Review in 2022, to explain. They are, you see:

…based on “single materiality” — the impact of the changing world on a company’s profits and losses, not the reverse. They also bear no connection to natural boundaries. According to Bloomberg, “[ESG] ratings don’t measure a company’s impact on the Earth and society. In fact, they gauge the opposite: the potential impact of the world on the company and its shareholders.”…

Marketing materials of ESG funds often make lofty statements about social or environmental aspirations, but the fine print reveals that the real goal is to assure shareholder profits.

And the main problem, as Pucker and King point out, is that ESG investing:

…will not tackle our generation’s urgent environmental and social challenges. Consider the battle against climate change: Estimates are that humanity will need to invest an average of $3.5 trillion annually over the next 30 years. Unfortunately, these trillions are not the same trillions that are presently invested in assets managed according to many forms of ESG investing — those are dedicated to assuring returns for shareholders, not delivering positive planetary impact.

But it looks like a good gig for Seajay, who has completed the Directors Education Program (DEP) at the Rotman School of Management, and hey, that’s what this whole startup investment deal is about: a founder selling the company, presumably for a nice return, and moving on to the next big thing.

Whether, in the process, she has also “fueled Atlantic Canada’s economy” is debatable.