By Craig Westcott / August 4, 2023
A CBS man who took the town council to Small Claims Court hoping to get back 21 years of taxes on an unused basement apartment in his home has won a partial victory.
Vince Walsh of Hynes Road, Kelligrews had asked the court to reimburse him some $9,500, which represented the water and sewer levies on a basement apartment that he says was unrented since 1981. After stating his case before a judge, the Town’s lawyer offered him $2,500.
“I said make it $4,500 and I’ll get out of your hair,” Walsh told The Shoreline Tuesday.
“Their lawyer from Roebothan McKay and Marshall, whom they have on retainer, apparently, said he had to talk to someone (at the Town) and he came back and said, no, they won’t go any higher than $3,000,” Walsh said. “I figured when I went to Small Claims Court I’d go against somebody from council, from the Finance department, or whatever. It wasn’t, it was a lawyer… He wasn’t a bad guy, really.”
Walsh said he was forced to go to court after Town officials told him there was no way he would ever get back any money on his prior year’s taxes aside from the amount he had already paid in water and sewer fees for the nonexistent apartment earlier this year.
“I didn’t discover this until this year,” Walsh said. “I just paid it (every year). I didn’t even look at it (the tax bill), I just paid it. But for some reason this year I happened to look at it and saw two charges for water and sewer and one said, ‘Apartment.’ So, I said, that’s a mistake. I phoned the council and said you guys have made a mistake. You’re charging me for an apartment. And she said, ‘You’ve been paying that for years.’ So, I said, okay, I’ll get my money back. She said, ‘Don’t even think about it. You will never get that money back.’ I’m surprised I got $3,000 of it back, to tell you the truth.”
After that conversation with the Town, Walsh said, an inspector visited to see if he had a basement apartment.
“I had only had an apartment for about two years, back in ’79 to ’81, or something like that, and I had forgotten all about it,” Walsh said.
The water and sewer levy for the apartment started going on his bill in 2001, after the Town installed water and sewer services on his street. From that point, Walsh was being charged two sets of fees for water and sewer to his residence, though he hadn’t noticed it. “So I was paying double,” he said.
Once the inspector saw the basement was no longer being used as an apartment and the separate electricity meter had been removed, Walsh was told he would be reimbursed this year’s fee of some $635 for the basement.
“So, I said, what about the other 21 years? They said, no, you’re not getting that back,” Walsh recalled.
The 82-year-old then asked Conception Bay South MHA Barry Petten to go to the Town on his behalf. Petten did so, Walsh said, but was told “they couldn’t make an exception for me because other people would be putting in claims. But the point is, it’s my money. In the meantime, I didn’t look for interest, or compound interest, or the value that my house had gone up because I (supposedly) had an apartment, which I didn’t have.”
Walsh’s latest tax assessment from the Municipal Assessment Agency saw the value of his home drop by some $27,600 after the Town updated its tax rolls to reflect the absence of a basement apartment. That suggests that in addition to the water and sewer fees on the non-existent apartment, Walsh was paying more in property tax on the home itself because it was incorrectly overvalued.
“I didn’t look for any of that,” he said. “All I wanted was for them to just give back the money that I paid in as taxes… I was paying (taxes) on an apartment that I didn’t have.”
With the Town refusing to reimburse him any further, Walsh paid the $100 fee to file a claim in Small Claims Court. He was advised by a lawyer not to bother hiring a solicitor because any money he might win in court wouldn’t make up for the cost of going to trial. So, Walsh represented himself.
“I got $3,000 out of them. That was it,” said Walsh. “Which leaves me $6,500 short of what I overpaid them, and I’m not going to get it back, unless they voluntarily give it back and it doesn’t seem like they are.”
Walsh said he could have taken it to the next level, a civil suit against the Town in Supreme Court, but the costs of pursuing that would wipe out anything he might win there. Reluctantly, Walsh accepted the cheque for $3,000.
“I had to sign a piece of paper that I was abandoning the claim,” Walsh added. “In other words, I couldn’t take them to court anymore.”
Walsh reckoned there are probably others in the same position who haven’t realized they are paying taxes on basement apartments they no longer rent out. That means the Town may be collecting fees it is not fully entitled to should the property owners discover the oversight.
He is disappointed the Town forced him all the way to court to deny his claim.
“Who else have they done this to?” said Walsh. “I don’t know… The point is I’m an 82-year-old senior citizen. I’ve never been late paying a bill, never. Never been late on the council fees. There’s no reason for them to be treating me like I’m a criminal. I actually thought, maybe I should get these guys for defamation of character, because I’ve never been late paying a bill, and now all of a sudden when I’ve paid too much, it’s like they’re taking me to court to say we think you’re screwing us.”
The Shoreline requested an interview with the Town regarding Walsh’s case. As of press time, nobody was available.