A prospective landlord paid $440,000 for three properties at Whistler's tax sale this year, although the municipality's general manager of economic viability said it is unlikely the homes will actually change hands.
Lisa Landry said few properties have ever changed hands through the tax sale process in Whistler.
"The owners still have a year to redeem and they still get full use and enjoyment of the place for another year," said Landry, stressing the buyer can only get access to the property a year after the auction date.
"They can redeem their property at any time, and they always do."
The "buyer" bid $134,000 and $129,000 on two units inside the Hilton Hotel, assessed at about $260,000 each, as well as $177,000 on a property on Main Street, assessed at $350,000.
Each year, municipalities across British Columbia auction off properties within their boundaries whose owners owe three years worth of property taxes. During the auction, members of the public can bid on the properties, although municipalities also often bid as a risk mitigation measure. If someone wins a bid, they must pay the municipality by cash or certified check within hours. After the auction is over, the owner still has a year to redeem their property taxes.
"We do attempt to outbid," said Landry about the municipality's position during tax sales. "We always try to minimize the amount as well, because the owner has to pay interest on that amount, but we will also try to out bid."
Landry said the municipality bids because the onus is on the local government to communicate to each property owner that they will lose their house if they don't pay their taxes.
A few years ago, there was a court case in Sidney, B.C. because an owner had not paid taxes for three years, explained Landry. The municipality served the owner notice and he signed it as having received and understood what the letter said.
However, his property went to tax sale and was bought by a member of the public, and over the next year, the original owner failed to redeem his taxes.
The members of the family of this particular owner, however, saw what happened and went to court and the court ruled in favour of the owner, said Landry. The court said the municipality had not communicated with the owner clearly and ordered them to give him his house back.
Unfortunately, the new owner wanted a lot more than market value for the Sidney house.
"The municipality designates one of our staff to bid on the properties such that a situation like that cannot occur," said Landry. "If it were to be the case that that were to happen, the property would transfer to the municipality, in which cause when everything gets sorted out, we can give them his property back."
This year, 44 properties in Whistler were advertised for tax sale. However, most of the property owners paid their taxes in advance, and only seven units actually went to auction last Monday at MY Millennium Place.
These numbers are consistent with past years, said Landry, adding that last year 32 properties were listed for tax sale but only seven went to auction. Over the course of the year, no properties actually changed hands.