Vancouver rolls out empty home tax

There are punishing penalties for owners who refuse to rent out their vacant homes 

Mayor Gregor Robertson announces details of the empty homes tax November 7, 2017 | Frank O'Brien

The City of Vancouver will begin mailing notices this week to more than 180,000 city homeowners to explain Canada’s first empty home tax that was unveiled today (November 7) at city hall.

Based on the hefty penalties for non-compliance, resistance appears futile.

“Vancouver renters are in crisis, with the rental vacancy rate hovering over zero for years,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “The city will not sit on the sidelines as more than 25,000 empty and under-occupied properties hold back homes for people who live and work in Vancouver. We need a tax on empty homes to encourage the best use of all our housing, and help boost our rental supply for locals.”

Every Vancouver homeowner will now be required to submit an annual property status declaration to determine if his or her property is subject to the empty homes tax.

Homeowners who fail to declare by the due date of February 2, 2018, will have their properties deemed vacant and will be subject to the tax at a rate of 1% of the property’s 2017 assessed taxable value. They will also be fined a $250 penalty for non-declaration.

With the assessed value of an average Vancouver home now around $1 million, the tax penalty alone could total at least $10,000.

However, the tax will not apply to most Vancouver homeowners, according to a city release. Principal residences or properties rented for at least six months of the year are exempt from the tax, for example.

“I like the principle of it but I think owners will find a way around it,” said Brendan Dawe, a spokesman for Abundant Housing Vancouver, a tenant advocacy group pushing for more rental housing to be built. Dawe believes the tax will be expensive to administer and difficult to enforce.

Michael Geller, a Vancouver architect and developer who consults on housing issues, echoed that comment.

“I suspect the empty homes tax will result in some properties rented out, and others sold to owner-occupiers, or investors who will rent them out,” Geller said. “But ultimately, it will be administratively expensive and not make rental housing more affordable.”

He cited one example of a Florida owner of a $4 million Vancouver condominium who advertised but could not find a qualified tenant for the time the owner was not in Vancouver. For such an owner, the empty home tax could total $40,000.