The Hunt Camp By Barney Moorhouse

Published June 1, 2018

The “DEATH of the HUNT CAMP” article in The Landowner, October/November 2017, caught the attention of many, self included. Was the sky really falling? Following is what I have been able to ascertain. Warning; there are more questions than answers. Don’t expect a humourous result; yet!

First – a word of explanation. When studying Shakespeare’s humour plays I didn’t get it. Where was the laughter? Except for Wayne and Shuster’s classic “Rinse the Blood off My Toga!” which appeared on Ed Sullivan, I saw no humour. My teacher explained that humour simply means that the story ends well. Really?

Over the course of time I contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), hunt camp owner Evans McNab and the Municipality of Mississippi Mills (MM). Plus a couple of MPPs for comment. McNab told me that of the four municipal employees involved in the initiation of this issue, three are no longer in the picture. When I asked of their whereabouts for comment I received no reply. Only Dan Prest, Chief Building Inspector, was courteous enough to respond. He said that the municipality is responsible to administer or enforce, without prejudice, the Ontario Building Code, MM’s Building By-Laws, Zoning or any other regulation. Both the MNRF and MPAC promptly replied to my queries.

 

Example of one of the many hunt camps in Ontario.

The Story:

According to McNab, someone allegedly complained to MM that a neighbour of McNab had a hunt camp. As a result, MM discovered McNab’s hunt camp built in 2007 without a building permit and proclaimed, according to McNab, that “we will actively look for hunt camps with no building permits.”  MPP Jack MacLaren told MM “to back off” at a meeting with their mayor and the by-law enforcement officer in the summer 2016 but “I don’t think they listened to me.” MacLaren believes that the intense public outcry against the municipality is rattling MM into backing off. McNab said that MacLaren pointed out that hunt camps are part of our cultural heritage and a way of life in the Ottawa Valley. Then, according to McNab, MPAC sent him a valuation assessment of $497,000 for the hunt camp and subsequently MM sent him a tax bill for $7000. All based, according to McNab, upon “fraudulent information” provided by MM to MPAC claiming that the hunt camp was 3000 square feet when, in fact, McNab states it is 1500 sq. ft.

Andrew Loney, Director of Valuation and Customer Relations (MPAC), said the corporation is responsible for assessing and classifying all properties in Ontario according to its use or uses and then municipalities use this information to set tax rates and to collect property taxes. “Generally speaking, bonafide hunt camps are assessed as vacant land with minimal structures.”

For Current Value Assessment, MPAC analyzes sales of comparable properties in the area. What might that property reasonably be expected to sell for, in its current condition, on the open market? “We consider the location, living area, age of property, lot dimensions and quality of construction in our assessment.” MPAC states that accurate data is necessary. It uses land title documents, building permits, discussions and correspondence with property owners, on-site inspections, satellite digital imagery and questionnaires. If you are not happy with your assessment. MPAC has a free appeal option; followed by an appeal with the Assessment Review Board – “an independent adjudicative tribunal”. The Customer Contact Centre can be reached at 1.866.296.6722 or aboutmyproperty.ca.

McNab said MPAC advised him to first pay the $7000 bill and then protest. McNab has not allowed MPAC to visit the property but he has provided it with the building plans. “They have offered a revised evaluation, but it is still too high,” said McNab who compared it to a neighbour’s property complete with a two story farm house, outbuildings, hydro, and road frontage that has a valuation $300,000 less.  By comparison the hunt camp has no road frontage, no hydro, an outhouse (there is indoor plumbing) and some outbuildings. As far as McNab is concerned MPAC is “not helping us with our current situation.”

Is there a STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS regarding building permits? Depends upon whom you ask. McNab says that there is and it is 12 months. “We provided them (MM) with case law to support it but they simply discarded it (didn’t even give it to their lawyer) and kept on harassing/bullying us.”  Prest, CBI of MM, replied that a property owner may not be charged under the building code at the specific offence of ‘constructing without a permit’ if no action is commenced within 12 months of the preceding coming to the attention of the CBO. BUT, an Order to Comply may be issued to an owner to obtain a building permit regardless of when the offence occurred and failure to comply may result in the charge of ‘failing to comply with an order.’  

MM claims that the hunt camp is used as a second residence. “No,” responds McNab. “It is our family hunt camp; we have 4 owners and our 3 families use it.” He adds that MM By-law 11-83 clearly defines a hunt camp as a non-residential use, “but we still get taxed at a residential rate.”  McNab believes all hunt camps need to be on guard against these actions by a municipality.

MPP Randy Hillier said he was unaware as the McNab family had not contacted him. He continued, as a rule any building over 110 sq. ft. requires a building permit. “Occasionally when a structure is built without a building permit, the prior year’s taxes would become payable…At the end of the day the municipality would have the authority to demolish or force a tax sale if the individual refused to pay their taxes.”

MPP Todd Smith wrote: “I would suggest that it is an over eager CBO. There have been many complaints about the overreaching Conservation Authority in Mississippi Mills and perhaps the same type of thinking has permeated into the municipality.” It is not clear why it took MM so long to discover the McNab camp.

FROM THE MNRF

Jolanta Kowalski, Senior Media spokeswoman, MNRF, said that, at this time, there are just over 3500 “hunt camps” on Ontario Crown Land. No new Private Recreation Camps have been approved as the policy has changed to no longer accept new applications. Until 1964, the then MNR issued permits for 1 acre of land to construct a hunt or fishing camp on Crown land. “Since that time, we have maintained existing occupation.”

Just what is a registered hunt camp? According to the MNRF the term Hunt Camp is commonly used to refer to a privately-owned structure or cottage on Crown Land. Historically these camps or cottages were used by hunters, but their use is not limited to hunting. The camp/cottage requires a lease or licence from the MNRF. “Registered Hunt Camp” is somewhat of a misnomer. “Registered” simply means the camp is authorized by the ministry to be on Crown Land. “On private lands, these structures are not managed by the MNRF but rather through municipal bylaw and zoning.” And yes, Hunt Camps on Crown Land are subject to property taxes. But that comes under MPAC as the “MNRF is not the responsible body for these taxes.”

So, how does that work? According to MPAC’s Andrew Loney, MPAC mails the Property Assessment Notice to the Province and the Province makes the Payment-in-Lieu of taxes to the municipality. The Province recoups the Payment-in-Lieu from the tenant for the portion of land leased which is payment for services provided by the municipality.  

McNab said that his last contact was with MM councillor Denzil Ferguson who said that McNab would be receiving a letter stating that MM no longer required a building permit. “We have not received it yet.” Leaving the tax valuation as the main bone of contention. “I could go on and on but I have to get to work, this thing with MM has really affected my work and my family life. It’s very frustrating and disappointing.”

McNab’s most recent tax bill is $8,135.52.

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