An Okanagan man who lost his property in a tax sale made his money back, and wrangled an apology from the municipality that sold it.
Anthony Brent Morgan, 57, has been awarded $352,316 from a B.C. Supreme Court judge who found he’d unfairly lost out on real estate market gains after the Township of Spallumcheen wrongly offloaded his home for a mere $11,300 in 2017 to fulfill a $6,700 tax debt.
Morgan purchased a vacant 3.8-hectare lot for $160,000 in 2010 and briefly lived on it for around a year. He had high hopes to build a home on it but moved for work and has lived in a rental in Vernon for the bulk of the last 10 years, struggling to make ends meet.
It was while there that the municipality tried to collect back taxes by selling the property, but Morgan wasn’t told about that or, once it was done, that he had one year to get back his loss by repaying money owed.
“Failure on the part of the local government to follow the legislation, including failure to notify the owner/charge holder brings with it … significant consequences, namely having to fairly compensate owner/charge holder for any losses and damages resulting from the sale,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Weatherill wrote in a decision released last Friday.
He also said the municipality had a responsibility to properly compensate Morgan.
“(It) was the plaintiff’s only piece of real property,” Weatherhill said. “It was property upon which he intended to build a business and eventually retire … When the defendant sold the property, he had no ability to purchase a replacement and has missed out on the significant increase in property values in the area since September 2018.”
Weatherhill said, put another way, had the tax sale not taken place or had he been notified of it and redeemed the property, the plaintiff would have continued to own the property and would have enjoyed the increase in its value over the years.
“The Tax Sale has deprived him of that increase,” he said.
In the wake of the decision the town issued an apology to Morgan.
“Since 2017, the Council of the Township of Spallumcheen has undertaken significant review of our processes and has instituted substantial changes which has included changes to administration and changes in process, ensuring legislative requirements are met. The Township insurer, Municipal Insurance Association of BC, has provided legal direction and oversight throughout this process to ensure a fair outcome on behalf of the corporation,” Doug Allin, Chief Administrative Officer of Spallumcheen said in a statement.
“On behalf of the administration for the Township of Spallumcheen, we apologize for this regrettable situation.”
The decision mirrors a situation in Penticton that the province’s ombudsperson wrote about in a report titled ‘A Bid for Fairness’ and took aim at the city, which sold the house in a 2017 tax sale.
The homeowner, a 60-year-old woman described as being vulnerable and having personal challenges, owed $10,000, but had no funds to cover the amount. The city sold the home for $150,000, well below the assessed value of $420,000.
When the sale was completed one year later, Wilson was evicted and lost approximately $270,000 of equity in her home, according to the report.
The report recommended the city reimburse the woman $140,000 — roughly half of what she lost in equity. The city disagreed with the report’s findings.
It subsequently held a meeting regarding the tax sale, and council voted 5-1 in favour of offering compensation in the amount of $140,922.99.
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