Attention Vancouver property owners!
Friday, Feb. 2 is the deadline by which you must submit a property
status declaration so that city officials can determine if your property
is subject to the Empty Homes Tax. Failure to declare will result in
your property being deemed vacant and subject to a tax of one per cent
of its assessed taxable value. For most West Side single-family
properties, that’s $30,000 or more. Every year.
Every Vancouver homeowner must make a declaration, even those who
have lived in their homes for decades and assumed the tax only applied
to the vacant house down the street or empty apartment next door.
While the city’s desire to transform what it claims are 25,495 empty
or “under-utilized” dwellings into new rental units was
well-intentioned, as regular readers of this column know, I have long opposed how the city has introduced this tax bylaw.
From the onset, city lawyers knew from the experience in London and
other global jurisdictions that it is extremely difficult and expensive
to enforce a tax on vacant dwellings.
Consequently, Vancouver’s legal department drafted what many
regarded to be a very heavy-handed bylaw, which not only taxed owners of
truly empty dwellings, but also the owners of most second homes.
When a few of these second home owners, including a former Vancouver
doctor who had moved to Bowen Island but came into the city to work
part-time, complained about the impact of this tax, they were told by
city staff they had a choice. They could rent their homes or sell.
Since any intelligent person could appreciate these second homes
could not be rented out for a minimum 30 days at a time, this response
prompted me and others to suggest that, in effect, the tax was like a
jealousy tax, to appease voters who could not afford one home, let alone
Nonetheless, the city refused to amend the bylaw. As a result, many
of these homeowners, including a former MLA and B.C. mayor, have offered
their properties for sale since they are not prepared to pay such a
These homes will not suddenly become rental properties, and I am
willing to bet my house that this tax will not result in anywhere near
the tens of thousands of rental properties that the mayor, and other
misguided souls, predict will come onto the market.
The unreasonableness of this tax was recently illustrated by the
case of a vacant lot owner who was told she too would have to pay the
tax. This despite the fact the lot had always been vacant.
When she complained to city staff, she was told to apply for a
permit and build a house on the property. Who knew it was also an empty
As this column was about to go to press, the mayor held a press
conference to provide an update on the tax. At the conference, media
were told that 11 per cent or 21,000 Vancouver homeowners have not yet
submitted their declarations.
When the mayor and city chief financial officer were asked how many
of the 89 per cent of homeowners who had responded said their properties
were vacant, we were somewhat amused when the CFO claimed the city did
not yet have this information. Really?
While I remain opposed to aspects of the Empty Home Tax, especially
its application to second homes, I decided to offer two suggestions to
help the city recoup some of the $7.4 million it says the program is now
estimated to cost to administer.
Since I suspect many owners of truly vacant properties are going to
lie about their status, I suggested the city implement something akin to
the Crime Stoppers program to encourage the public to anonymously
provide tips about vacant properties, especially those that could serve
as rental housing.
I subsequently learned there already is a smartphone app to report vacant dwellings.
I also suggested city staff liaise with the garbage collection
department since if anyone knows which single-family houses are empty,
it’s the waste collectors.
The CFO acknowledged they hadn’t thought of this, but agreed it was a good idea.
I am pleased to help.