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District of Squamish to charge condo owners, despite petition

Some residents of The Main on Cleveland Avenue allege they have been incorrectly billed for utilities.
During their meeting on Dec. 6, council cast their votes 5-2. Councillors Andrew Hamilton and Lauren Greenlaw opposed charging the 18 residents who say they are being billed for services they did not use.

The District’s elected officials have voted to charge residents of The Main condo complex for utility fees some homeowners allege they do not owe.

During their meeting on Dec. 6, council cast their votes 5-2. Councillors Andrew Hamilton and Lauren Greenlaw opposed charging the 18 residents who say they are being billed for services they did not use.

The rest of council was in favour of billing the residents. While acknowledging that there appear to have been issues with some of the utility billing at 37881 Cleveland Avenue, they said the municipality has little legislative power to fix the issue.

“I think there were a number of things that were perhaps mishaps along the way that have resulted in where we are, and, legislatively, we really actually don’t have many tools in our toolbox to adhere or to seek redress in this situation,” said Coun. Jenna Stoner.

Before the vote, District staff told elected officials they had only two options under the law. Either they could refund 2020’s utility fees to all 96 units of The Main, or they could bill 18 unit owners for money they allege they did not owe.

Staff said the first option would then force the entire community to shoulder the bills the 96 units would’ve paid. Staff said there was no way to simply refund the 18 units affected. They said that the legislation does not allow the District to single out individual condo owners in that complex for refunds.

“So I cannot justify redistributing the utility bills for 78 units across the entire district to provide relief for 18 folks,” Stoner said.

Some condo owners who live in The Main say the municipality has unfairly slapped them with hundreds of dollars in utility bills.

According to two residents who spoke to The Squamish Chief before the council meeting, the District sent out a letter demanding about $730 in payments for utilities.

The unpaid utilities date back to May 2020, which the residents say was well before the units came into their possession.

These residents say these payments were for utility usage that the units’ previous owners incurred.

This billing is a mystery to the residents, as before buying the units from their previous owners, they said they ran background checks to see if there were any outstanding taxes or money owed on the condos.

They say their notaries found no outstanding debt on the units.

The District is threatening interest and penalties, but the residents say they will not pay the amount.

Amy Kristensen bought her unit in April 2022. The Squamish Chief contacted her notary, who confirmed there was zero balance on the taxes and utilities on it at the time of purchase.

In September, Kristensen received a letter from the District stating that she owed the municipality money.

“The District of Squamish has been informed that the utility charges, based on occupancy, that were originally sent to the developer were actually to be charged to the purchaser,” the letter reads. “The developer and your lawyer or notary determined that the purchaser would be responsible for the utility charges. Your purchase documents were adjusted to reflect this decision.”

Kristensen and several residents sent a petition to the municipality stating they would not pay the $730 being asked of them. Tyler Clements, the petition organizer, emailed the document to the District on Nov. 29 and publicly copied The Squamish Chief in the message.

There are 12 e-signatures on the document.

In a written statement to The Squamish Chief, the District confirmed that it issued utility bills to The Main strata units for developer unpaid utilities that dated back to May 2020.

“Purchase documents for The Main units stated that the purchaser is responsible for payment of these utilities owed to the District,” wrote spokesperson Christina Moore on Nov. 25.

Clements is another resident of The Main who also received a bill for about $730 from the District and plans on fighting it as well.

Clements and his wife bought the unit in March 2021. At the time, he said his notary informed him that there were no taxes owed on the unit. His notary declined to confirm the information with The Squamish Chief, citing legal reasons.

However, Clements showed The Squamish Chief a copy of the property tax certificate that showed no tax was owed before he bought the property.

“I’m incredibly angry — and the amount of work I have now. I’ve got a newborn daughter [with whom] I’m trying to spend my very little time off from emergency services,” said Clements, who works as a paramedic.

He said the District had taken the wrong approach in this case.

“I mean, realistically, they should have been going after the developers and the original owners. And that’s [whom] these are due from.”

During the council meeting on Dec. 6, Alice Collins, a resident of The Main, appeared before elected officials. She said she was representing the affected owners, and said some people were double-billed.

She said some owners paid their utility fees to the developer, expecting that the developer would then pay the District.

“These residents understood that in crediting the developer their portion of the utilities owing, the responsibility was on the developer to pay the District for these utilities,” said Collins. “These residents have been billed again by the District, effectively billing them twice.”

Collins also warned that if the District proceeds with billing the owners, it will create a bad precedent — the perception that District tax certificates are not to be trusted.

Coun. Hamilton appeared to take to this argument.

“The idea that … we can issue tax certificates erroneously, and then people purchase property based on those erroneous tax certificates — I think that if we look at what it means to be accountable for our mistakes, this is an expensive mistake,” he said.

“But it’s ours. And accountability, whether it’s a legislative requirement or not … means owning your mistakes. And I think it seems to me like issuing incorrect tax certificates was a mistake on the District’s part.”

A District staff report says that in May 2020, the municipality sent the annual property tax and utilities notices for 37881 Cleveland Avenue to the developer.

The developer paid the property tax balance but did not pay the utility fees balance of about $69,700, the report said.

The District followed its collections process to send notices for outstanding balances, which included sending utility collection notices to the developer in 2020, 2021, and 2022, the report continues.

The report said this past spring, the developer’s representative paid the municipality $23,200, which was the collection of 32 of the individual strata unit owners’ amounts owing, which was about $730 each.

The District then went about collecting the remaining money owed from the 64 other strata owners of The Main in September 2022. Since sending out bills that month, the municipality has received 13 payments.

However, 18 of these condo owners say they were not the owners of their units at the time, and, as a result, did not receive any utility service in 2020. They say the District tax certificates they obtained before purchasing their condos after 2020 did not show any money owed on their units.

When asked if there was a reason why the developer did not pay the full 2020 utility fee, Reann Sousa, the District’s director of financial operations, said the developer believed it was not its responsibility.

“We have spoken with the developer’s representative and have been advised that the reason that the developer did not pay the utility fees was it’s in the purchase agreement that the purchaser is responsible for the payment of utility fees. However, that is just through confirmation of the developer’s representative,” Sousa said.

Mayor Armand Hurford said the developer bears some responsibility, but the District has little power in this matter.

“I think the developer — although we don’t have recourse to collect from [them] — bears some responsibility in this, given that they did have those notices sent to them,” said Hurford.

“I do believe that the folks that — or at least one that we know of, perhaps there’s more — that if they paid the developer, and they weren’t given credit for that in our system, that there’s recourse for them through the developer, but…as staff have outlined, we don’t have the legislative tools to do that task.”

The Squamish Chief reached out to members of the development company for comment. There were no immediate responses.


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