Westward Independent

17 years of north cowichan

by Adrienne Richards
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In our recent interviews in North Cowichan, the family behind this narrative prefers to remain anonymous—a reflection of a prevailing apprehension among many to share their stories, fearing potential repercussions from North Cowichan.


Some of these individuals, in their 70s, recount experiences spanning five decades, detailing the municipal actions that have led to the loss of their land, suffering, and financial setbacks and in this story, their home. For the sake of clarity, the owner of the trailer will be referred to as Ms. Fellows, and the property owner as Mr. Singh.


This story unfolds over two decades ago when a family decided to acquire a trailer on leased land. The trailer had been on the property since 1973, and Ms. Fellows became the fourth owner of this abode. However, due to the property owner, Mr. Singh, having the trailer on his land, the value of the property diminished, labeled as “trailer park” status by the municipality, a status known to North Cowichan from the outset.


Despite the reduced value, the family, with a carpenter among them, invested significant time and money in transforming the trailer into a remarkable home. They reveled in making the trailer an extraordinary dwelling and enjoyed harmonious years there, building a good relationship with Mr. Singh and creating their own piece of paradise.


The ordeal commenced when, after seven years, Ms. Fellows decided to sell the trailer to facilitate the purchase of a property for her and her husband to build a small home. A real estate agent informed North Cowichan about the sale, expressing reluctance due to the absence of necessary permits. Initially, North Cowichan claimed the trailer should never have been there and, despite all hookups being in place for years, owners paying taxes, having a legal address, all hookups, and the trailer being occupied by different owners since the ‘70s. The Real Estate agent then took the listing off the MLM within three days of speaking with North Cowichan. Subsequently, North Cowichan sent a letter to Mr. Singh, acknowledging awareness of another trailer, not the one being sold, and stating, “the problem being that there was no record of any permit being issued to the site this mobile home sat on.” Later, North Cowichan admitted knowledge of the trailer’s 30-year history and proposed an initial “solution” of $3500 for a letter of “comfort,” essentially giving a grandfather clause to the trailer. While Ms. Fellows considered this a fair price and was willing to pay, North Cowichan insisted that Mr. Singh foot the bill. Upon Mr. Singh’s refusal, North Cowichan intensified its stance, serving both Mr. Singh and Ms. Fellows with an expensive list of requirements to fulfill for the trailer’s sale. These demands included verifying the wiring to meet specific standards, obtaining a “Silver Sticker,” provincial approval and verification of the septic system, and commissioning a legal survey detailing the home’s location and any outbuildings.

 

In an attempt to understand the circumstances surrounding their trailer’s sale, Ms. Fellows sought the paperwork from their original Real Estate agent. She was rudely dismissed, refused the paperwork, and was informed that she would have to take the agent to court if they wished to obtain it. Ms. Fellows reached out to numerous law firms between Duncan and Courtney, only to find that most were on retainer from North Cowichan. Eventually, Ms. Fellows and her family had their day in court. Upon arrival, they witnessed the Real Estate agent in the hall, engaged in hugging and laughter with the judge—an apparent familiarity between them. Initially told that no one else could be present in the courtroom, the judge allowed 15 people with the agent. The proceedings were brief, with the judge addressing Ms. Fellows, stating, “I can’t understand your paperwork, YOU didn’t do your due diligence”. Ms. Fellows asked “what is the Real Estate agent for then?”. The judge summarily dismissed the case. Subsequently, when Ms. Fellows attempted to obtain the stenographer’s notes from the trial, to show this statement by the judge in further litigations, she was denied access to the transcripts and threatened with a fine of $5000 for both she and her husband.


Undeterred, Ms. Fellows embarked on the expensive journey to sell, paying $5000 for the ‘Silver Sticker’ for their electrical system. One day, upon returning home, she discovered their sewer pipes had been dug up, down to the effluent discharge caps on the pipes, which were now leaching sewer into the surrounding areas. A neighbour revealed that a N.C. truck had been there earlier, seen digging up the pipes. The owners later discovered that jurisdiction over sewer issues lay with Island Health, leaving them bewildered as to why N.C. was interfering with their sewer and demanding an inspection as part of the ‘to-do’ list.
Despite the trailer’s charm, inquiries from potential buyers dwindled due to the complications surrounding the sale, and the inability to obtain anything in writing from the Municipality. Ms. Fellows sought multiple appraisals, valuing the trailer at around $155k, but bureaucratic obstacles obstructed any potential sale.


Meanwhile, the owner of the land, Mr. Singh, passed away, and his sister, Mrs. Daily, assumed property rights. She then delegated day-to-day dealings to an affluent property management company. At this juncture, North Cowichan declared that the trailer could neither be moved nor sold. When Ms. Fellows was offered $50k for the trailer, after initially asking for $200k, by the firm handling the sale of the land, she was given six months to clear the land and return it to its ‘original’ agricultural status, with the final $25k to be received after inspection. The conditions included digging up the driveway, among other tasks, which Ms. Fellows did not undertake. An Inspector gave her the all-clear, shaking his head at the idea of removing the driveway as a condition. Subsequently, the purchaser of the trailer, who lived on a local First Nations Reserve, hired Belton Brothers to move the trailer to the Reserve. However, when it came time to move, the moving company refused to do so without an asbestos inspection. Ms. Fellows paid $1000 for the inspection, and finally, after 17 years of stress, litigation, and thousands of dollars spent on ‘improvements,’ the trailer left the property.


Ms. Fellows estimates her losses at $140k, not including labour for the trailer upgrades or the expenses incurred while complying with municipal demands. As a final affront, North Cowichan demanded $875 and a liability waiver, which she refused to sign or pay for. Homeless, Ms. Fellows purchased an $8000 trailer for herself and her family, only to discover later that trailer parks do not permit trailers over 10 years old to have permanent residence. Consequently, she now moves between different friends’ properties, as North Cowichan prohibits owners of these properties from having anyone live permanently in a trailer on their premises.
And so, the story unfolds of a family, still grappling with homelessness to this day—a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by individuals ensnared in the intricate web of bureaucratic red tape, while North Cowichan placates the public with their ‘concerns’ around housing needs.


The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to “Ms. Fellows.”

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