More details of Vancouver’s proposed vacant home tax came to light September 20, as staff presented their report to City Council and requested approval for their public consultation budget.
The presented report, which is available online, confirmed that the “Empty Homes Tax” will operate using a self-reporting process – just like income tax – and will be audited by the City on a random basis and in response to complaints made to the City by neighbours and other residents.
Staff told council that the penalties for those found to be avoiding the tax should be stiff – as much as $10,000, which is the maximum fine the city can issue.
Staff are also asking council to approve the $220,000 budget needed for the public consultation process on the tax, to be held this fall – some $210,000 of which will pay for letters to the public informing them of the consultation process, with $7,500 paying for open-house discussions and workshops, and $2,500 for the final report to be presented to council.
The proposal report outlines scenarios in which home owners would be exempt from the tax, such as those using it as a primary residence, those who have tenants or family members living in the property full time, those who live in the property for part of each week on a commuting basis, and where homes are awaiting demolition or renovation, with permits.
However, the public consultation will be used to determine whether certain grey-area scenarios should be exempt from the tax or not – such as where the home is used for just a few months of the year by the owner, whose primary residence is elsewhere.
The process will also help staff determine the amount of the tax that will be levied, which the report says could be as low as 0.5 per cent or as high as two per cent of the assessed value of the home, payable on an annual basis.
On an empty home worth $1 million, that would come to between $5,000 and $20,000 a year in additional taxes, on top of regular property tax.
Arnon Dachner, partner at Dentons LLP, was jokingly asked at an Urban Development Institute luncheon September 16 whether he would complain to the City if he thought a neighbouring home was left vacant. He said, “I’m not really a snitcher – as long as they don’t park in front of my house while leaving their house vacant, I don’t mind! I don’t really hold with the ‘snitching on your neighbours’ process. But a lot of our taxation systems, like income tax, are based on self-reporting. And yes, there will be audits. But I don’t relish the idea of people knocking on each other’s doors to try to ascertain whether the home is vacant.”
He added, “I think it will make for a great new business – the guy who mows the lawn, who drops off the fake grocery bags, who takes out fake garbage bags…”