B.C.’s Ombudsperson has come out against the City of Penticton for selling a vulnerable resident’s home after she didn’t pay $10,000 in property tax.
“What happened to Ms. Wilson is tragic: she lost her home and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity – all over a tax debt of approximately $10,000. In light of my findings about the mistakes that the city made and the unfair process that resulted as well as the city’s failure to consider Ms. Wilson’s circumstances, I have recommended that the City of Penticton compensate Ms. Wilson for a portion of the equity she lost,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke in his report.
According to the report, Wilson was evicted from her home. The home was assessed at $420,000 but Penticton sold it in auction for $150,000.
The Ombudsperson made six recommendations including that the City of Penticton compensate Wilson $140,922. The City of Penticton has rejected that recommendation.
“I am disheartened that the city has not accepted this recommendation, and has not taken any responsibility for its role in the unfairness of this tax sale,” said Chalke in his report.
Penticton takes issue with the report’s findings and its legal counsel is reaching out to the Ombudsperson office “to better understand why a significant part of the city’s response was excluded,” said city CAO Donny van Dyk.
“We were disappointed that the Ombudsperson chose not to include our complete and detailed response to the recommendations in the report, particularly information that does not support the Ombudsperson’s conclusions,” read the statement.
“City staff were unaware that Ms. Wilson was a vulnerable person in need of support or assistance until after the conclusion of the tax sale process,” reads the statement.
The Ombudsperson indicated in his report that the city should have taken steps to help her.
“Ms. Wilson was a vulnerable member of the community in a disadvantaged position. While she owned her home outright, her personal circumstances made her unable to take steps on her own to protect herself and avoid the loss of her home by paying her property taxes,” said Chalke.
“Fortunately, in B.C. there are public bodies such as health authorities and the Public Guardian and Trustee who are mandated to assist vulnerable individuals. However, the City of Penticton did not take any steps to contact these public bodies during the one-year redemption period.”
The city communicated with Wilson 15 times and “most of the communications contained errors and deficiencies”, said the Ombudsperson.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs did accept all five recommendations for municipalities to collect property taxes fairly.
Currently, there is no consistent set of guidelines for municipalities to consider the interests of vulnerable individuals when using their power to auction a person’s home.
“I continue to urge the City of Penticton to reconsider its rejection of my recommendation that it take some responsibility for its errors in this matter,” Chalke concluded.
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