Penticton Woman Loses Home to Unpaid Bill; the ombudsman calls for change – .

Penticton Woman Loses Home to Unpaid Bill; the ombudsman calls for change – .

The BC Ombudsman recommends several changes to the way municipalities use tax sales to collect unpaid property taxes after determining that the city of Penticton unfairly sold the home of a vulnerable resident.

The house in question belonged to a 60-year-old woman identified in Mediator Jay Chalke’s report as “Mrs. Wilson”. She had lived in the house for many years with her mother and completely owned it.

Wilson’s mother died in 2013 and she did not pay property taxes on the house for 2015 and 2016, according to the ombudsman’s report released Wednesday.

The report notes that Wilson was able to pay the roughly $ 10,000 she owed, but found it difficult to do so due to “health issues” that prevented her from understanding the tax notices that had to do with it. been sent to her home and respond appropriately or the other communications she had with the city.

The city auctioned off the house for $ 150,000, well below its estimated value of $ 420,000. As a result, Wilson lost “at least $ 270,000” in equity in his home, the report says.

Chalke’s office learned of the woman’s plight from her sister – identified in the report as “Mrs. Allen” – to whom Wilson granted power of attorney in 2016, but who was not aware of her sister’s plight until afterwards. tax sale.

Ombudsman report notes Allen had no way of knowing his sister was in trouble and argues the city had a responsibility to further investigate why Wilson had not paid his taxes .

According to the report, tax sales are very rarely concluded. Typically, the owner is able to “redeem” the property by repaying the amount he owes before the property is sold.

Wilson’s home was only the third of 152 tax sales to be made in the city of Penticton in the past 32 years, according to the report.

“In the interests of fairness, the city should have taken steps to understand why Ms. Wilson had not paid her taxes,” the report said. “Under the circumstances, the city should have ensured that Ms. Wilson’s non-payment of taxes was not due to factors beyond her control. “

“The results of this investigation are concerning,” Chalke said in a press release Wednesday.

“Ms. Wilson was a vulnerable member of the Penticton community and just needed extra help paying her taxes. The City of Penticton called Ms Wilson once, but did not contact the Public Guardian and Trustee or Interior Health, who have a legal mandate to find out if an adult is vulnerable and in need of support or assistance. . The city’s failure to contact one of these aid organizations contributed to a devastating and preventable loss.

The report also notes several mistakes the city made in its communications with Wilson, including referring to incorrect sections of the Local Government Act on several occasions and providing Wilson with the wrong deadline to buy back his three-man property. times.

In its response to the ombudsman’s report, the city qualifies these problems as “minor errors and shortcomings” and maintains that it has fulfilled its legal obligations in this matter.

Although Chalke’s report does not allege any illegal behavior on the part of the city, the ombudsman made it clear in his statement on Wednesday that he did not find the city’s response satisfactory.

“Selling someone’s house to pay off a relatively low tax debt is an extraordinary power and I expect that when a municipality takes such a step it will be scrupulously accurate,” Chalke said in the press release. .

“While the City of Penticton may view its own mistakes as unimportant, I disagree. The cumulative effect of the city’s multiple mistakes has been to make the process unfair to Ms. Wilson.

Chalke’s report makes six recommendations: five of them to the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and one to the City of Penticton.

At the ministry, the report recommends:

  • develop simple language letter templates for tax sales
  • develop guidelines for notifying a landlord before a tax sale occurs
  • amending the Local Government Act to require a municipality to provide notice by registered mail or personal service before a tax sale
  • consider whether local government law should establish a starting auction price that reflects the estimated value of a property
  • and publish best practice guidelines on how municipalities should protect vulnerable landowners under the tax sale regime

The report also recommends that the city pay Wilson $ 140,922.88 as compensation for some of the equity it lost on the sale.

The ministry accepted all five recommendations addressed to it, according to the report, and the city’s response to the ombudsman also indicates support for those five recommendations.

The city, however, refused to pay Wilson the recommended compensation.

“I am disappointed that the City of Penticton does not take responsibility for both the multiple errors and omissions it made in its communication with Ms. Wilson and the insufficient steps it took to help her get the job done. ‘help she needed,’ Chalke said in the statement. .

“I ask the city to realize the gravity of this situation for this vulnerable member of its community and to compensate Ms. Wilson as I recommended. It’s never too late to do the right thing.


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