COVID-19 has relaxed rules in a lot of ways for many things. The Canada Revenue Agency extended the tax filing deadline, most court proceedings were put on hold, and in many ways, life seemed to be on pause. However, as we can see in a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, COVID-19 does not provide a blanket excuse for failure to address certain responsibilities.
The family home
When a mother of three children (two daughters and one son) passed away on December 27, 2018, all three children were named jointly as estate trustees in her will. The only significant asset of value in the estate was the home the mother owned. Complications arose after her death because the son and his family had been residing in the house since 2012.
An order to sell the house
An order was issued on February 6, 2020, requiring the home to be listed for sale on April 15, 2020. The son was provided with an option to purchase the house no later than the close of business on April 14, 2020. However, the son failed to both list the home to sell and exercise his option to purchase it. He brought a motion to the court asking for an extension on the deadline. Meanwhile, the daughters brought a cross-motion asking for the house to be listed for sale.
The brother’s position
The brother stated that he has lived with his family in the home since 2012, with his oldest daughter having moved in even earlier to help keep her grandmother company after the death of her grandfather.
The son said he paid the expenses associated with maintaining the house over the years, and says the home’s increase in value (from $400,000 to $900,000) is partially a result of that help. He admitted that he had not paid the property tax in over three years, but says it was because his mother’s mail was being forwarded to a different address and he did not see the notices. He then said he tried to pay the tax upon discovering this but found the municipal offices were closed due to COVID-19.
The son said the real estate agent he had hired to help sell the home backed out because of the pandemic, and that the banks were not open, preventing him from securing financing in order to make an offer on the home. He added that the market for houses had deflated and that the estate would not realize the true value of the home if listed for sale during the pandemic.
The sisters’ position
The sisters stated that the brother had not paid rent since he moved into the home, and noted that he had not paid property tax on the home. What’s more, the sisters stated that the brother produced no evidence to support his position that he had tried to sell and purchase the home. The sisters also questioned the brother’s ability to secure financing for the purchase of the house.
The court’s analysis
The court agreed with the sisters, stating that there was no evidence produced that it was impossible for the brother to work with a real estate agent or a bank to sell or purchase the home. While services were certainly limited, it doesn’t mean services were eliminated. The court determined it could not overlook that flaw.
The court also added that the brother’s statement about the housing market being deflated could be beneficial to the brother because he may be able to purchase the home for less than he would have had to pay in a healthy market.
As a result of this, the court ordered the home to be listed for sale, and the son was required to pay rent in the amount of $2,000 per month in the meantime.
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