Squamish condo owners left footing utility bills racked up before they moved in

Click to play video: 'District of Squamish going after condo owners for unpaid utility bills'
District of Squamish going after condo owners for unpaid utility bills
WATCH: More than a dozen condo owners in Squamish are on the hook for a utility bill they say they're not responsible for. The bills date back to 2020, before some of the owners actually purchased their units. But without the developer stepping up to pay, the district says someone else has to. Julie Nolin reports. – Dec 8, 2022

The owners of 18 units in a Squamish condo complex are fuming after being told they must pay outstanding utility bills on their apartments related to the property’s previous owners.

“Needless to say there’s a lot of stress, for us. Basically they in one fell swoop ruined Christmas for us. We now have to come up with this money,” homeowner Tyler Clements told Global News. “We scraped together everything we could to buy this place.”

Clements and his wife bought the unit in The Main at 37881 Cleveland Ave. in 2021, and hired a notary to do due diligence and get an official tax statement.

That document, which came back on District of Squamish letterhead, said there were no outstanding debts, taxes or utility bills owing, and the family moved ahead with the purchase.

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In September, they and other owners in the building, got a letter telling them they owed hundreds of dollars in unpaid utilities related to 2020, before many of them had even lived there.

Click to play video: 'B.C. strata denies condo sale to family of five'
B.C. strata denies condo sale to family of five

Clements described their efforts to talk to the District of Squamish about the bill as “very difficult,” and said phone calls and emails were often not returned.

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“They could not really provide any information why we were on the hook for this money,” he said. “They said it was from when the building was developed or when it was built. It was owed between the developer and the original purchaser of the unit. We’re now like the second or third owner of the unit.”

Clement said if the family doesn’t pay by the end of December, they could face penalties or even lose their home.

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Amy Kristensen, another owner in the building, told Global News she’s facing a bill of $726 for utilities used before she moved in.

“It’s like working two jobs. You lose sleep at night,” she said of her efforts to fight the bill.

“They should be hunting down the original owners at that period of time. These are usage fees. I wasn’t even in this province during 2020. It doesn’t make any sense that they haven’t tracked these people down.”

Kristensen attended a recent meeting of the Squamish council where she was able to present the owners’ case.

Despite their efforts, council voted to move ahead with attempts to collect the money from current residents.

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Consumer Matters: Living with condo noise

She told Global News she remains flabbergasted that the official tax certificate she got from the district when she bought the unit has now proven to be inaccurate.

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“(We were) just kidding, that zero that we gave you on that tax certificate that you paid for actually should be $726,” she said.

In a statement to Global News, the District of Squamish said it empathizes with the owners of the 18 units and understands their frustration. But it said it has a legal obligation to collect the outstanding balances “from the current strata unit owners, regardless of whether they were the beneficiary of those utilities in 2020.”

“Ultimately, the property has a responsibility to ensure utilities are paid.”

The district told Global News it issued billings to the developer in 2020, 2021 and 2022. But the developer told the district that purchase agreements on the building left buyers responsible for utility fees, meaning the municipality’s only avenue was to collect from residents.

The district said council was presented with two options: collect from all 96 unit owners in the building, or seek a ministerial order not to collect from the building at all and pass the bill on to Squamish taxpayers.

It said it did not have the ability to get a ministerial order exempting the 18 owners who did not live in the building in 2020. It’s an answer that doesn’t satisfy Clement, who said the district should be responsible for its own errors.

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“The district has admitted fault and they admit this shouldn’t have happened, and yet they are still wanting to bill us,” he said.

“If they’re at fault, they should make it right. They should find that money somewhere, it shouldn’t be my burden to fix their mistakes.”

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