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A Nova Scotia senior lost his cottage in a tax sale — but had never missed a payment

A Nova Scotia senior lost his cottage in a tax sale — but had never missed a payment

It began with an uncommon gentle invoice.

Final February, Nelson Miller was confused when he received an electrical energy invoice for his cottage. The 83-year-old not often used his rural Nova Scotia cottage in winter. 

“So I referred to as [the utility]. They usually stated, ‘The folks that purchased your property need you to pay the sunshine invoice,’” Miller recalled.

“Pardon? What’s happening? My property just isn’t on the market.”

In an unlucky collection of occasions involving taxes and a decades-old unregistered deed, the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s had offered the land with out his data.

Nelson Miller at his residence in Alton, N.S. The 83-year-old had a weird expertise when his household cottage was offered in a tax sale with out his data. (CBC)

In 1979, Miller purchased two parcels of land on East Loon Lake, about 55 kilometres north of Sheet Harbour, N.S. He constructed a small cottage on the roughly 35,500 square-foot property.

However Miller by no means registered his deed — one thing he realizes now he ought to have carried out on the time. Nevertheless, Miller stated it simply wasn’t a precedence as a result of it was a busy time as he and his late spouse, Karen, each labored whereas elevating their younger kids.

“This wouldn’t have occurred if I’d have registered it,” Miller stated.

‘A part of heaven’

Though Miller stated he at all times knew there have been two parcels on the property — a bigger one beside the street the place he constructed the household cottage and a smaller lakeside one — he paid taxes to St. Mary’s municipality for each parcels underneath one account.

Over the approaching a long time the Millers loved their land and cottage, spending most weekends swimming, boating, being within the woods and consuming home-cooked meals.

“It was like a part of heaven nearly,” Miller stated with a quiet snicker.

The cottage is offered

As a result of Miller hadn’t registered the deed, the municipality didn’t know he had bought the land from the earlier proprietor. In 2015, for the primary time, the municipality began attempting to gather taxes on the bigger roadside parcel of land in a brand new account. However the tax payments went to a long-defunct publish workplace field utilized by the earlier proprietor. 

Finally the property was put up for a tax sale and purchased by Luke and Christina Collings in June 2021.

When the Collings drove out to get a have a look at the property earlier than shopping for it, they had been shocked to discover a cottage on it — as a result of the tax sale marketed the property as “vacant land.”

However the sale went via with nobody coming ahead. Luke stated after they lastly received a have a look at the cottage, it appeared “fairly tidy” with garments, private belongings, present mail — and the electrical energy was nonetheless related.

“That was our set off. These issues all collectively, simply didn’t sit proper and we knew one thing was up,” Christina stated in an interview alongside Luke from their residence in Boylston, N.S., in Guysborough County.

A white man and woman sit side by side in front of a beige brick wall. The man on the right is bald, with glasses and a blue t-shirt while the woman has long blond hair and a black sweater.
Luke and Christina Collings purchased a chunk of land on East Loon Lake in a 2021 tax sale they thought was vacant, however then Nelson Miller got here ahead to indicate he owned the property. (CBC)

The Collings ultimately related with Miller.

Though Miller was at first in “disbelief,” Luke talked him via all the pieces that had occurred. When the Collings came upon Miller had his authentic deed, and his spouse Karen had died very not too long ago, the couple knew they needed to return the cottage.

“I couldn’t sleep at evening realizing I’d stolen somebody’s property,” Christina stated. “It was the best factor to do. I imply, any first rate human would have labored it out.”

When Luke stated he needed to return the cottage, Miller was “elated.”

“Lots of people … would have stated ‘no approach, I purchased it and I’m going to maintain it,’” Miller stated. “I owe him, massive time.”

A woman has her back to the camera as she stands sihouetted in a photo print, which sits at the top of a pile of photos on a wooden table
Karen Miller, Nelson’s late spouse, stands on the sink in an previous picture on the Miller household cottage. (Nelson Miller)

The Collings, Miller and the St. Mary’s municipality all employed legal professionals and ultimately reached a authorized settlement in Might 2022.

The municipality paid the Collings again the $28,893 they paid within the tax sale plus authorized bills and curiosity, whereas the Collings agreed to surrender their curiosity to Miller and he signed a brand new deed. 

Miller agreed to pay the remaining $2,272 in excellent property taxes to the municipality. 

The Collings really feel strongly that St. Mary’s ought to have carried out extra, and triple-checked whether or not the taxes Miller was paying on the lakeside parcel may connect with the property subsequent door.

CBC requested St. Mary’s if this case has modified their tax sale practices, however didn’t hear again by publication.

Neighbour prevented tax sale

However Dartmouth-based lawyer Matthew Moir of Weldon McInnis, who usually offers with property issues, stated it seems St. Mary’s adopted their authorized obligations underneath the Municipal Authorities Act. Any searches the municipality would have carried out on the excellent taxes would have by no means introduced up Miller’s identify, Moir stated.

The property additionally had not but been migrated from the province’s authentic registry of deeds system into the brand new post-2005 land registry system, which Moir stated might need caught the problem.

Again at East Loon Lake, Miller stated his neighbours have since used his expertise as a cautionary story and checked their very own deeds and paperwork. 

One neighbour fortunately realized on the final minute their taxes hadn’t been paid for 3 years — and caught the error earlier than the land was put up in a tax sale.

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