Nfld. & Labrador

Humber Valley Resort homeowner charged $8K annual water fee

The owner of a home on a former private resort in western Newfoundland says he has refused to sign what he calls "arbitrary" contracts, and now the private company behind those contracts wants him to pay an even higher fee, or it's threatening to cut off water to his property.

'If I don't pay, the threat was to cut off my water,' says Tim Buckle

The owner of a home on a former private resort in western Newfoundland says he has refused to sign what he calls "arbitrary" contracts, and now the private company behind those contracts wants him to pay an even higher fee, or it's threatening to cut off water to his property.

"I'm presented now that my fee is $8,000 annually, and if I don't pay, the threat was to cut off my water," said Tim Buckle.

Humber Valley Resort built high-end chalets near the shores of Deer Lake. (CBC)
He purchased a house in Humber Valley Resort in 2011. But at the time, he refused to sign three contracts for fees that were presented by the resort's owner.

"My legal counsel strongly advised me against signing the contracts that were presented, or paying the fees that were assigned," Buckle said.

The first was a water connection fee — even though water was already connected to the property that he had purchased — which was a one-time fee of $5,000.

"If I ever sold my house, the new owners would have to pay another $5,000. So it would be a continuing, repeated fee of $5,000 every time a property is sold," he said.

The second charge was an annual water service fee.

"They want [you] to sign the contract, however, annually, this fee has been waived. There's no fee assigned," Buckle said.

"It gives the private company that owns the golf course at Humber Valley Resort... the right to increase the fee at any time, arbitrarily, and I would have no say in it as a homeowner," Buckle said. Finally, there's an annual resort fee, which Buckle said was around $3,000 when he purchased his home.

"That puts a homeowner in significant jeopardy."

The response I got was that, "Your fee is no longer $3,000 annually. It's now $8,000."- Tim Buckle

Buckle said while he wouldn't sign the contracts, he has offered to enter into negotiations with the company for a separate contract, to set a fee for a definitive period of time, that could later be renegotiated.

"That's been refused. In fact, the response I got was that, 'Your fee is no longer $3,000 annually. It's now $8,000,'" he said.

"By signing these contracts, you're giving a private company the right to increase fees — not like a municipality, where there's a political process, where councillors and mayors are answerable to the public that they're serving. This is a private company that doesn't have to disclose any information about their business, and don't have to justify the fees, and can arbitrarily impose any fee they want at any time. So that's a real danger for a private homeowner."

Not a private community

Before Humber Valley Resort declared bankruptcy in 2008, it released all the property owners from contracts and obligations to the company. 

"Every property in Humber Valley Resort, the land and the building, is privately owned," Buckle said.

"The company that purchased the golf course, and the road systems, and the bridge out of bankruptcy — they have no right or entitlement to any say in the operation of a private residence and associated land."

Buckle said he's speaking out now as a cautionary tale for potential new homeowners who are eyeing properties in Humber Valley Resort.

"I've lived there for three years. My water hasn't been cut off, [and] there's been no legal action taken against me, because the company doesn't have the right to do it, and they have no legal recourse to take," he said.

Buckle said he has contacted the provincial government, because of the threat made to disconnect his water, and is awaiting a response.

Lawyer responds

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Humber Valley Resort, Graham Watton, was not available for an interview with CBC News, but instead sent copies of two letters that were sent to Buckle that explained the need to sign the contracts and pay the fees.

In the first letter, dated February 2012, it states that the resort owner is entitled to "just and equitable" compensation for essential and required services provided to chalet owners.

That includes a fee to be able "to be connected and/or to remain connected and to be able to use the water distribution system, the water mains, main water lines, all piping, the fire hydrants, [and] the water treatment plant."

It then states that Buckle will be charged $8,000 annually in resort fees, and that outstanding fees of more than $11,000 would have to be paid by April 2012.

If it wasn't paid, the letter says the company "will be disconnecting your chalet from its water system because of your failure and refusal to sign the agreements."

It further states that if Buckle's property was disconnected from the water system, a water distribution connection fee of $25,000 would have to be paid to the company for it to be reconnected.

In a second letter that was sent to Buckle and other property owners in Humber Valley Resort on Oct. 21 of this year, it again states Buckle's $8,000 annual fee, and if unpaid, he would be disconnected.

It also says the matter could be taken to Supreme Court, and that Buckle will not be able to sell his property until the fees have been settled.

According to that letter, Buckle is the only person who has refused to pay the fees and sign the contracts.

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