City proposes one percent tax on as many as 20,000 homes sitting empty or under-utilized in Vancouver

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      The City of Vancouver has revealed the basic details of a tax it proposes to apply against vacant houses and condos.

      The tax should be one percent of a property's value, states a November 9 media release.

      That means that if the owner of a condo worth $450,000 leaves it empty, they will have to pay the city $4,500 a year, or if a house worth $1.4 million is not occupied, the owner will pay a tax of $14,000 a year.

      There are as many as 10,800 homes sitting empty in Vancouver, and another 10,000 that are "under-occupied", according to the city.

      It outlines the definition of an empty home in a staff report that's scheduled to go to council on Tuesday (November 15). It states that all "vacant residential land" should be subject to the tax, as well as "all non-principal residences (except those qualifying for an exemption) which are unoccupied for six full months of the year or more".

      There are many ways that one's property can qualify for an exemption, the release continues.

      "Most Vancouver homeowners, including snowbirds, will not be subject to the Empty Homes Tax. Principal residences will not be charged the Empty Homes Tax, nor will properties that are rented long-term," it states.

      Based on a public consultation process, the city has proposed the following exemptions (quoting yesterday's media release):

      • The property is undergoing major renovations, or is under construction or redevelopment (with permits).
      • The registered owner (or other occupier) is undergoing medical or supportive care.
      • The owner is deceased and grant of probate or administration is pending.
      • Ownership of the property has changed during the previous year.
      • The property is subject to existing strata rental restrictions.
      • The registered owner uses the property for six months of the year for work purposes but claims principal residence elsewhere.
      • The property is under a court order prohibiting occupancy.
      • The property is limited to vehicle parking or the size, shape, or inherent limitation such that a residential building cannot be constructed.

      Speaking at City Hall yesterday (November 9), Mayor Gregor Robertson placed the tax in the context of Vancouver's housing crunch.

      “Vancouver is in a rental housing crisis," he said, quoted in a media release. "The City won’t sit on the sidelines while over 20,000 empty and under-occupied properties hold back homes for renters struggling to find an affordable and secure place to live. In a rental housing crisis, it’s unacceptable for so much housing to be treated as a commodity when people are desperate for an affordable, secure place to live. Housing is for homes first, and as investments second.”

      The tax is proposed to take effect on January 1, 2017.

      Last March, it published a study that found that in 2014, one percent of single-family and duplex homes were sitting empty and 12.5 percent of condos were vacant. That equates to 950 single-family and duplex homes, 125 rowhouses, and 9,750 empty apartments in Vancouver.

      According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), over the past three years the benchmark price for all residential properties in the region it describes as Greater Vancouver increased by 48.3 percent. As of May 2016, the benchmark price for a single-family detached home on the city’s East Side was $1.46 million. On the West Side, the benchmark price was $3.44 million.

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