North Van couple who concealed knowledge of oil tank on property ordered to pay $37K

A former North Vancouver couple have been ordered to pay $37,000 to the people who bought their house on Cloverley Street after a judge determined they deliberately concealed knowledge of a buried oil tank on their property.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok ordered the former owners, Peter and Carole Phinney to pay the money to Rhonda and Michael Honing, to cover the costs of subsequently removing the underground oil tank and cleaning up the soil that had been contaminated by leaking oil.

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The judge ruled the Phinneys were responsible for the cleanup, even though they had never used the oil tank, because Peter Phinney had misrepresented his knowledge that there was likely an underground tank on the property.

According to Blok’s reasons for judgment, the Honings bought the house in 2001 but didn’t discover the underground oil storage tank until 2016, when they dug it up and had to pay for cleanup of the contaminated soil.

The former owners, who bought the house in 1976, maintained they were not aware of the tank or any contamination, so shouldn’t be held responsible for it.

They said they had removed an oil tank inside the house and converted the heating system to natural gas shortly after buying it, decades ago.

“They depose that it never occurred to them to ask about underground storage tanks because these were not generally the subject of any concerns in the 1970s,” wrote Blok.

The Phinneys indicated they didn’t know about a tank or soil contamination in both a property disclosure form and in written responses to further questions from the buyers’ insurance broker.

They argued the tank was a case of buyer beware.

That is usually the case, Blok stated in his judgment, except in instances where sellers of property have actively concealed or misrepresented a defect.

But the Honings told the judge excavation of the tank revealed its vent pipe was within inches of both an irrigation system and a sewer line on the property and that Peter Phinney, a retired plumber and gasfitter, had installed both systems.

His responses to the Honings’ questions was therefore misleading, the judge determined, “given that Mr. Phinney knew or had very good reason to believe there was an underground storage tank on the property.”

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