(Alternate title: Adventures in Unreal Estate)
Real estate schemes are the things of legend. Florida swampland, Arizona beachfront, acreage on the Moon — those are so old as to be cliche’s. But the town of Pembroke, New Hampshire, has done them one better: they’ve sold land that never existed.
John and Renee Kuliga have owned a lot in Pelham since 1946. In 1995, they spotted a public notice that the town was selling a lot that abutted theirs. Seeing a chance to expand their property, they bought it, paid the transfer tax, and paid the increased property taxes for nine years.
But last summer, they got into a dispute with the town over reassessed property taxes. They hired a surveyor to map out their property, and discovered that the lot they had bought in 1995 had a rather unusual property — it didn’t exist.
It turns out that the town had, in its own survey a while ago, had made a mistake. The legacy of that error had created a “ghost” lot — one that existed solely on paper, and not in the real world. They then sold that figment of their imagination to the Kulikas and started taxing them on it.
The Kulikas, understandably, were a bit upset. They asked the town for a refund for the sale and all the taxes they’d paid for their little slice of Shangri-La — about $8,000. But the town came back with a counter-offer — the original purchase price and the refund of just the last year’s property taxes — a smidgen over $3,000. If the Kulikas want the rest of their money, they can go dig for it on their non-existent lot.
The Kulikas, naturally, didn’t take that well. They’re now suing the town. And not only for the above costs — they want compensation for all the other expenses they’ve incurred (surveyors, legal fees, and whatnot) because of the town’s screwup.
The town is hiding behind the dual defenses of “we don’t want to set a precedent” for being liable for their mistakes and “we sold it ‘as-is.'”
The selectmen are meeting tonight to discuss the matter.