Soaring assessment forces sale of studio
The inexorable rise in property assessments has forced one small-business owner to sell a north-end warehouse that has housed his independent photo studio for a dozen years.
Soaring property assessments and a crippling property tax bill forced Chris Reardon to sell his cavernous 6,800-square-foot, single-storey building on Agricola at Charles streets.
“There is no guarantee my tax bill wouldn’t go up anther 100 per cent next year,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I can’t take that kind of risk.”
The head of Harris Studio Inc. saw his property assessment jump 59 per cent in 2011 to $264,900 from $164,200 the year before, raising his property taxes to $10,000 from $6,500.
Still reeling from the increase, Reardon opened up his mailbox this year to find another mercurial leap.
The building’s assessment of $364,000 more than doubled his property tax bill in two years to $15,400.
Although Reardon tried to pass on some of the added costs — he occasionally rented out a section of the building to production companies or other ventures — he was forced to absorb most of the increases.
“The neighbourhood is not exactly a high-rent district so I could only charge so much for (renting) the property.”
When Reardon was approached by a prospective buyer intrigued by the 1920s industrial-style brick warehouse, selling the building seemed like the best solution to his property assessment woes.
“Selling the building was the only way to escape the onslaught of speculative property assessments and money grabs.”
Reardon declined to reveal the identity of the new owner or the sale price, although he said it will continue to be a commercial building.
According to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations online property records, a mortgage registered for the Agricola Street property in 2000 with Reardon as the guarantor was for the sum of $144,500.
If he sold the property at the most recent assessed value of $364,000, it’s possible Reardon more than doubled his investment.
But Reardon said he took issue with the sudden dramatic spikes in property valuation, rather than gradual and predictable increases in assessed value and taxes that small businesses can budget for.
Meanwhile, the photographer and graphic designer is currently renting a space for his business.
He said he plans to closely follow the direction the city’s approach to property valuation and small businesses in the coming months and years before deciding whether to purchase another property.
“The city has adopted a ’60s urban sprawl mentality where they have encouraged building communities and buying property geographically removed from the downtown core.”
Reardon points to the fact that the city is assessing property on the peninsula at more than $50 a square foot, but selling property in the Burnside Park for as little as $3 to $8 a square foot.
He also said new suburban developments don’t adequately offset the new costs to the city, such as new roads, sewage, police, fire, transportation and other services.
“The underlying problem is the city is basically clawing revenue from commercial properties in the downtown core to subsidize the suburban sprawl and industrial parks.”
Reardon said one of his biggest concerns is the impact on small businesses on the peninsula.
“The city and the province don’t seem to understand how this affects small-business owners.”
While property owners may reap the benefits of rising property values if they sell, business owners who try to maintain a going concern could be stumped.
After first exposing his rising property assessment and tax bills in The Chronicle Herald in January, Reardon said he has been approached by scads of property owners in the same boat.
“I get people approaching me telling me their taxes have gone up 100 or 200 per cent a year. If you’ve owned a small barbershop in the north end for 30 years, for example, you can’t just double the cost of a haircut to make up for it.
“The only alternative for small-business owners is to sell their property. But what kind of a community is Halifax becoming if small businesses can’t afford to operate?”