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Richmond neighbour fed up with helping out 'ghost' house

“Why aren’t they renting out the house, at least? It’s a half block from a great elementary school.”
empty house
Laura Gillanders is sick and tired of having to tidy up after a neighbouring mansion, which has been empty for six years. Daisy Xiong photo

For six years, Richmond resident Laura Gillanders has helped her neighbour pick up letters scattered on their property and pushed their green bin off the sidewalk.

But she’s never been given a word of thanks. In fact, Gillanders has never even met the neighbour.

Half a block away from Alfred Dixon elementary, the house never has its lights on or windows open. Someone broke a window, and it took weeks until it was fixed, recalled Gillanders.

She assumes no one lives there, and the green bin Gillanders and her children have to step around on their way to school, constantly reminds her of that fact.

“The bin is always there on the gravel. The gardeners left it out on Wednesday for the city to pick up on Monday, and it was left there afterwards,” said Gillanders.

“I push it back every single time, because it’s in our way. There is no sidewalk. You have to either walk around on the wet grass in the morning or on the road, where a lot of cars are driving to and from the school.”

She also picks up letters and flyers blown out of the mailbox from time to time, and puts them in the yellow recycling bag.

“In the first few years, I felt like I was being a good citizen and a good neighbour,” Gillanders told the Richmond News.

“Then I thought one day I would meet them and tell them ‘I have been putting your green bin away,’ and explain that ‘you need to put it out on the pick-up day only.’

“But it’s been six years now, and I’m just frustrated and sad that a family can’t live there.

"(The owners) are obviously not interested in living here or having anything to do with our neighbourhood. Now, I’m starting to feel resentful.”

The breaking point was when the bin, full of grass, was knocked over and spilled everywhere. The grass was left for five days. Finding it too heavy to lift the bin herself, Gillanders called the city.

“They said they would leave a note, noting that the bin was put out too early. But no one ever sees the note because no one lives there,” said a frustrated Gillanders.

“People talk about speculation tax. I don’t know much about it. Maybe it will help if they get fined or taxed, so they are more likely to rent the place out to people who will take care of their own green bin.”

City's options are limited

The City of Vancouver brought in an “empty homes tax” in 2016 as a tool to encourage owners to rent out their empty homes. Those who are not using a house as a principal residence, or who have not rented it out for at least six months in the past year, will be charged one per cent of the assessed value.

However, such tax does not exist in Richmond yet.

“At this point, we have not received any direction from council to consider an Empty Home Tax or similar mechanism,” said Ted Townsend, City of Richmond spokesperson.

“As this approach is largely untested, we want to wait and see the effectiveness and impact of such measures, such as Vancouver’s newly introduced empty home tax, before determining if such measures would be appropriate for Richmond.”

Empty house owners in Richmond may fall under categories for B.C.’s speculation tax introduced by the NDP government in February, which is 0.5 per cent of a house’s assessed value for local residents, one per cent for residents outside of B.C. and two per cent for foreign buyers.

However, when this tax is expected to come into effect has yet to be announced.

As for now, neighbours of unsightly houses in Richmond such as Gillanders can make a complaint to the city’s bylaw department, according to Townsend.

“If an investigation determines a property is deemed unsightly…we usually attempt to work with the owner to bring the property into compliance and then graduate to enforcement if that doesn’t happen,” said Townsend.

“Ultimately, the city can undertake a cleanup directly and costs are applied to the property taxes, but this happens rarely as most property owners usually voluntarily comply.”