Nova Scotia

Halifax senior stuck with $45K bill for new sewer, water lines before she can sell her duplex

A Halifax senior says major roadblocks stalling the sale of the home she’s lived in for 50 years should be a cautionary tale for people who own older duplexes around the city.

Arlene Best, 78, moved into assisted living at Northwood’s Halifax campus last fall, and has been trying for months to subdivide and sell her half of a duplex on Marilyn Drive in the Southdale area of Dartmouth.

She said she planned to rely on money from the sale to pay her rent and bills, but Halifax Water requires new sewer and water lines to be installed before the duplex can be subdivided.

The work is expected to cost about $45,000, which Best said she doesn’t have.

“If I don’t pay the rent here, they’re going to say, ‘Well, you’re going to have to find another place to live.’ Where am I going to live?” Best said.

Best and her family hired a surveyor to help with the subdivision process, and reached out to planners at the Halifax Regional Municipality. They all advised them the process should be simple — at first.

The duplex jointly owned by Arlene Best and her family on Marilyn Drive in Dartmouth. Best has run into unexpected costs attempting to subdivide the units. (Sarah Jewell/Concept Measures)

The sewer and water lines from both units in the duplex join before crossing the property line and connecting to the municipal systems.

Best said her neighbour subdivided a duplex with the same piping system around 2015 and no major changes were needed. She assumed her case would be the same.

Instead, Halifax Water ruled that both sides of the duplex need independent connections to the main lines before a subdivision can go ahead. 

Selling the entire duplex would solve the problem, but Best can’t take that step. She jointly owned the property with her late sister and a family member is keeping the other side.

“It was paid off. And I was thinking, ‘Thank heavens, it’s my house now.’ But now it’s costing me a fortune to sell my house,” Best said.

Best’s son, Michael, said Halifax Water refused their requests for an easement or variance.

Amid a housing crisis, Michael said he believes the utility is standing in the way of affordable housing because they had listed his mother’s unit for $299,000.

“If we sold them separately, then they become probably the most inexpensive three-bedroom, one-and-half-bath homes with yards and driveways in HRM,” Michael said.

Although they accepted an offer, the process has taken so long the sale fell through.

Realtor Kim Stewart has represented Best throughout the process, and said she hasn’t come across an issue like this before where Halifax Water has refused any accommodations.

Stewart said finding a well-kept home under $400,000 in the city, or even within an hour of Halifax, has become nearly impossible.

“There’s just no inventory,” she said.

She said there are many similar streets of duplexes from the 1970s around Halifax, often jointly owned by families like the Bests who pooled their money to buy decades ago.

‘An eye-opening experience’

“Ms. Arlene Best was a single mom her whole life, raising her son there. She wanted to feel like the next person had [the] option that she did,” Stewart said.

“It’s really been an eye-opening experience. Heartbreaking.”

Halifax Water said the 2020 national plumbing code states all properties must have an independent connection to the Halifax Water systems, and is clear that “exemptions are not permitted.”

“Applications like this allow for buildings to be brought into compliance with current standards, ultimately with the goal of protecting the current and future homeowners,” said Jeff Myrick, spokesperson for Halifax Water.

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