An 82-year-old Clarenville woman is wondering how a piece of land she says she has been paying taxes on since 1993 could be sold out from under her.
Bernie Weinheber of Clarenville hopes to set matters right over a piece of land in Port Blandford that she says she has title to. She’s paid municipal taxes on the land since 1977, but discovered when she went to sell the property that someone else had laid claim to it.
Kevin Curley photo
Correction: After this story was originally published, we were informed by Mrs. Weinheber that the man from Bonavista who surveyed the land was not involved in any way in the sale of the land. We regret any confusion that may have been caused by this error.
In 1977, Bernadette (Bernie) Weinheber’s husband Peter bought a 200ft x 75ft parcel of land in Port Blandford from George Blandford.
The couple also owned two other parcels of land in the town.
At some point Peter Weinheber sold half a block of the 200 x 75 ft block of land, leaving a 100 x 75 block still in his ownership.
After her husband’s death, Weinheber became the owner of the land. Her intention was to eventually sell it.
In the meantime, she continued to pay property taxes on all three parcels of land she owned.
Up until last year, she was paying $190 in municipal taxes on her land.
Last year, however, the cost rose and she was billed $480 in property taxes for each piece of land she owned.
“Nothing built on the land, just three separate pieces of land and it went from $190 to $1400,” says Weinheber.
“So I thought, I might as well sell that. What do I want it for; paying this kind of money every year?” she said.
Weinheber contacted a real estate agent about selling the three pieces of land only to discover that someone else had laid claim to one of the parcels of land — the 100 ft x 75 ft block that had been part of the original parcel purchased in 1977 from George Blandford.
She discovered that in order to prove she does own the land, she would have to get it surveyed.
She says she has the name of the gentlemen who bought the land, but he has not returned her calls.
Weinheber says person who bought the property has a home in Port Blandford but it’s not his permanent home, and he hasn’t been at the home lately.
Weinheber says she doesn’t think the person who purchased the land is aware that it is hers.
According to Weinheber, a man from Bonavista came and surveyed the land and then sold it for a widow in the area. She is uncertain if the surveyor was aware the land belongs to her.
“The man from Bonavista hasn’t replied. It could be an honest mistake. I don’t know. They are not responding.”
Meanwhile, says Weinheber, “The people in the office at Port Blandford should have known it was my land.”
Mayor Chad Holloway, however, says town councils do not monitor the buying and selling of land or land ownership.
He said the Municipal Assessment Agency (MAA) assesses property values for the town, which then determines tax rates based on those assessments.
“If the town knows land has changed ownership,” he said, “the town might (have) given the Municipal Assessment Agency a heads up, but we’re not obligated to do that.”
“If land switches ownership,” he added, “sometimes the lawyers might contact the town.”
Holloway said the onus is on the landowner to notify the town when a piece of land is sold, or bought.
“People can contact the Municipal Assessment Agency directly, and provide their legal documents to the Agency,” he said.
Other than that, he said, the MAA sends an assessment letter to every property owner in a town, notifying them of their assessment and if a person has a problem with the assessed value, or notices a mistake in the assessment, they should contact the agency.
Jim Hughes of Hughes and Brannan Law Office in Clarenville, says these types of mix-ups are most common in Newfoundland because most land in Newfoundland is owned by squatters’ rights or adverse possession.
“There is a lack of recorded documentation in the early years when people came here they simply landed on property. That created a problem at the get go and it’s being corrected slowly but surely,” says Hughes.
In Weinheber’s case, Hughes says it all came down to a surveying error.
“These people thought they were buying this piece of land when in fact they were buying a piece adjacent to it,” says Hughes.
He says it should be easily corrected if Weinheber goes through a process to have a judge order that she is the true owner of the property.
“It’s fairly simple because she has a deed to this piece of land and her deed has a good history of title and she got the deed in 2003,” says Hughes.
“This error should be easily corrected if we are all to cooperate but sometimes that’s not always the way,” he added.