THE District of West Vancouver has gone to court to force a waterfront property owner whose house sits partially on municipal land to either pay up or tear the house down.
At issue is a home at 2998 Park Lane, which sits next to municipal land used as a beach access at the foot of 30th Street. Over the years, parts of the home, including a carport and family room, plus a patio, fishponds and retaining walls have all been built on district land.
The municipality was in B.C. Supreme Court at the end of October asking a judge to order that homeowner Jie Liu remove the various structures.
"The underlying principle is this person has largely taken over public land for private use," said Bob Sokol, director of planning for the district. "It belongs to all the residents of West Vancouver."
But the homeowner, who bought the house in early 2011, has maintained in court documents she was assured by both the former owner and the municipality there were no problems with the encroachment. She has told the municipality she's willing to pay compensation for the structures on district land.
So far, however, appraisers for the two sides haven't been able to agree on a value for the property. The municipality has pegged the value at $4.6 million, while Liu says it's worth $3.6 million.
The dispute has been simmering since 2005 when district staff noted the encroachment while doing a survey.
As far as the municipality can tell, the house and structures were all built between the 1960s and 1980s without permits, said Sokol. Sokol said the district had numerous discussions with former owner
Raoul Tsakok about resolving the problem, but they never came to an agreement.
When Tsakok sold the property last year, Sokol said the district assumed Tsakok would have to tell purchasers about the legal wrangle in disclosure statements. But apparently, that didn't happen.
In her court documents, Liu said Tsakok told her West Vancouver was content to allow the encroaching structures to remain. Liu said she went to municipal hall and was not told of any outstanding problems with the property.
Sokol said Liu didn't go through the process of asking for a formal "letter of comfort" as many prospective purchasers do. "I don't know who they spoke to or what they were told," he said of Liu and her real estate agent.
The district has since placed a notice on title. In court documents, Liu argued asking her to tear down parts of her house would be too Draconian, adding the encroachment doesn't block public access to the waterfront.
Sokol said the two sides are continuing to talk about payment for the land. "Council has told us they would like to see us resolve the situation," he said.
Sokol said it's not unheard of for property owners to occasionally encroach on neighbouring municipal land. But usually that involves retaining walls or landscaping rather than large permanent structures, he said.
If they can't reach a deal, the two sides are set to go back before a judge next month.