As municipal by-laws change, certain residents in Vancouver area that were lucky to inherit a property, may suddenly find themselves filing for a bankruptcy.
This is a scenario that almost reads like a bad movie; four years ago some municipalities in Vancouver adopted new bylaws in a bid to reduce the damage to the environment.
The bylaws stipulate that, in cases where an underground oil tank was present, the owner of the property must test the soil before it goes up for sale. This testing is done at the owners’ expense, and (should any contaminates be found) the soil must first be remediated.
Failure to do so could mean court orders and hefty penalties on top of getting stuck with a house that can’t be sold, even to cover the expenses.
One such person, a resident of West Vancouver who chose to be identified as Gale, discovered an oil tank on the property he inherited. Living under extreme poverty he isn’t able to afford the soil testing, let alone the tank removal, and so he chose to do the only thing he could – keep the property and leave it as is.
Unfortunately as oil tanks, that were popular in sixties and seventies, are nearing the end of their life spans, oil is found in an increasing number of tests across the Vancouver and Fraser Valley. In rare cases, a chemical feedback loop can also speed up the corrosion, causing leaks far sooner than expected.
This mandatory soil testing, while good for the environment, places a lot of residents in a tight spot.
They have to get rid of the fuel tank before it creates a leak, which means they are forced to sell the property just to cover their expenses.
“There are people in West Vancouver, on fixed incomes that do not grow along with the cost of living, who have oil tanks but do not have extra funds to have them removed, ” says Gale.
However since no property can be put up for sale without the tank being removed first, the only thing they can do is sit and wait. And as the oil tanks age, the leaks inevitably occur, at which point they may be forced to declare a bankruptcy.
On top of that, the insurance companies refuse to insure any property with an underground oil tank, and will dispute any claims against it.
West Vancouver made mandatory testing legal only four years ago, and as New West and Surrey adopted the same by-laws just two years ago, it is likely that remaining municipalities will do the same sooner rather than later.
And while in US one may be eligible for government grants to help with the tank removal and clean-up, British Columbia has no programs of that kind.
New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin all have programs for homeowners that suddenly may be facing a problem of removing the tank from their property.
New Jersey even has a provision that requires the combined income of a household to be below $250,000 in order to qualify for a grant.
What to do if you are affected
Those who live in an area that requires no soil testing, they can simply remove the oil tank and sell the property as is. Oil is a type of contaminant that is actually eaten up by some bacteria, and while long-lived, it eventually completely disappears from the soil.
Oil tank removal is the only way to prevent additional contamination of the soil and is required by all Vancouver municipalities, realtors and home insurance companies – before the property is put up for sale.
In cases where a tank is situated under a structure, there are legal provisions allowing owners to fill the tank with sand (once the fuel is pumped out), and leave it in place.
However, in areas where testing is mandatory, the cost of soil clean-up can be offset by doing some of the steps yourself.
Property owners could ensure the access to the tank is free of obstructions. This saves time for tank removal companies, reducing the cost of tank removal for the homeowner.
Also, homeowners may be able to save money by obtaining the necessary permits themselves.
In any case, the smart thing to do would be to find out who the legally responsible party is for covering the costs of any work. In some cases, homeowners are surprised to discover that a previous homeowner is the legally responsible party required to cover all costs associated with tank removal and soil remediation.
Fabio Chiesa is the owner of CERC Oil Tank Removal Vancouver – an underground storage tank removal company based in North Vancouver, BC.
If you have any questions about oil tank removal – how to find a tank on your property, what options you have if you find an oil tank or how to best protect yourself from unnecessary work, give Fabio a call at 604-889-0251