Published: Globe & Mail, TorontoWalking a thin line is one thing, but this was ridiculous
It all began the day I received my 1980 Property Tax Assessment from the City of Toronto. Gone was the old multi-stubbed computer card; in its place was a large pale blue sheet with a single receipt stub. These sheets are mailed out monthly. As I was paying my first monthly instalment, my eye taught a glaring error in the description of my small city lot. In transferring between the two computer systems, someone or some machine, had goofed. My lot size was listed as 00.2500 ft by 0000.000 ft -- an impressive set of zeros to the third decimal place. I wondered. if I had always lived in this limbo? No, a quick check of previous tax assessments confirmed that my lot was listed as 131.500 ft. deep.
My first thoughts were of the benefits of my situation: I could appeal my assessment and surely gain a reduction. After all, $700 in an exorbitant sum to pay for occupying no square feet. Then the disadvantages overwhelmed me. According to the records, 1 owned nothing I lived (with a wife, two children, and a large number of mortgages on a thin line -- mathematically a line is defined as having no width -- 25 feet long. That to say the least, was a precarious existence. Balancing all of us, to say nothing of the extensive library that threatens to overflow every room in the house, on this knife-edge is most uncomfortable, as well as damaging to our posteriors and to the bindings of the books.
The problem was of course, confounded by the question of who now owned our property. Did our back fence neighbours own our house, garden, library and all? If they found out about our situation would they march in waving their assessment notice, saying that their lot measures 25 ft. by 263 ft., and serve us with a 30-day eviction notice? Worse did no one own the property? Would armies of squatters, displaced from their homes by the recent wave of mortgage foreclosures, move into the unowned property? Would they settle it: a group in the garage, tents on the lawns, groups in the bedrooms, dining room, basement, and attic?
How the visions of overcrowding appalled me. How the visions of encroachment on our 25 ft. line scared me. We might be crowded off it on to the city property, the road, and end up being grist for the nether grindstone of the City saying "No further" and the upper millstone of the population on the unowned property saying, in no uncertain terms, "Move over."
More fearsome thoughts crowded my imagination. We had just spent a long and messy six months having an addition put on the house -- an 8-foot bite off of the missing 131.5 feet. Despite the warnings of friends experienced in the ways of construction and contractors I am pleased to say that my wife and I are still talking to each other, the children and our relations with them suffered no lasting ill-effects, and, wonder of wonders. we still like our contractor and are pleased with the work he did. But I digress, the point is, can we keep the addition? It is on whose ground? Will we be compelled to raze it to the ground while the ownership question is sorted out? I do not think that relations with wife, children and contractor could survive another demolition/construction cycle. Better to abandon the property and join the squatters in the garage.
Of course, neither the benefits nor the costs of this debacle came to pass. A quick phone call to City Hall soon put matters right. As I write, a corrected Assessment Notice lies on my desk, but I will be keeping my eye on future ones.