Getting it in writing

Man living rent free on taxpayer-owned property as caretaker since 2006 with nothing in writing- Qualicum mayor pledges action Monday night

A former contractor to the Town of Qualicum Beach has been living rent-free on taxpayer-owned property as a caretaker since 2006 without any written agreement or lease.

According to an internal town memo obtained by The NEWS, the arrangement like the one at The Stables on the former Brown property is nothing new.

“There is a long history of town employees or others living in town buildings to provide security and/or maintenance, for nominal or no rent, depending on the extent of the duties performed and on the condition of the building,” states the memo written by Corporate Administrator Trudy Coates’ to CAO Mark Brown and other town hall staff. “There is no record of written leases or caretaker agreements for the current or historic arrangements.”

Coun. Dave Willie says this kind of arrangement, or lack thereof, “is symbolic of many of the issues we are going through.”

“To not have a tenancy agreement is unheard of,” said Willie. “It’s dangerous, it’s not right and it puts the Town of Qualicum Beach in a very difficult position. I’d like to know what our insurer says about it.”

Mayor Teunis Westbroek said Thursday he would be bring this issue to the regularly scheduled council meeting on Monday night.

“I think to put this right I’m going to ask council to support me in putting this verbal understanding in writing,” said Westbroek. “We know the guy (the tenant) and he seemed reliable and so far he hasn’t disappointed us. I wouldn’t call this situation dangerous.”

Qualicum Beach Residents’ Association President Bill Adkins said he wasn’t prepared to talk about The Stables issue specifically, but he did comment on the wider issue of leases and arrangements regarding taxpayer-owned property.

“On basic principle it seems reasonable that there needs to be some sort of agreement,” said Adkins.

Coun. Willie continued his comments about the bigger picture of the way the town operates, including the use, and the expenses associated with, legal counsel.

“At a drop of a hat we phone a lawyer,” said Willie, citing a recent example where he said the town incurred $1,600 in legals fees in relation to the installation of the art for the old bus garage, a painting that cost the town $1,500. “So what I find interesting is our legal liability, which is big, when it comes to housing and tenancy.”

“It (seeking legal counsel) is done when it serves the purpose of those who want it that way but things are ignored when it serves the purpose the other way,” said Willie. “What’s more frustrating for me is the amount of time that it’s taking council right now to clean up the mess that’s been left behind by other councils and I don’t appreciate it.”

The town memo obtained by The NEWS through an anonymous e-mail provided information about the history of The Stables property.

“Since the town has owned the Heritage Forest (2002), someone has lived in the building on site (292 Chester Road), known as the stables, for free for taking on the caretaker role.  It is a rustic one-bedroom apartment, attached to the stable area that the town uses for storage,” Coates wrote. “(Caretaker’s name) is at least the fourth such ‘caretaker’ and he has resided in the building since 2006, when he vacated the Town’s residential building at 237 Second Avenue (for which he paid rent), when it was demolished due to its poor condition and to permit development of a parking lot. The stables may not be in a condition that would permit rental under the Landlord Tenancy Act.”

Despite the lack of any written agreement, Coates wrote that the caretaker at The Stables is “to perform the following caretaker duties: mow the lawns around the stables, complete small repairs to the stables, maintain the ‘apartment’ area, open up trails in the Heritage Forest if branches land across a trail, or contact the town if there is a large mess or hazard, receive and relay to the town, reports he receives from park users of any unusual activities; and, primarily, to act as the town’s eyes and ears on the property, notifying the town or the RCMP if there is any partying, development of a ‘hangout’ location, or other activities that should not be occurring and reporting fires to 911, which in the past has prevented a forest fire.”

Coates also wrote: “The July 2008 Heritage Forest Commission meeting minutes reflect, when discussing the development of the Management Plan, Caretaker Unit (the need to have someone permanently on site).”

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