News Local

Vancouver vacancy tax eyed for 2017

By Eric MacKenzie

Mayor Gregor Robertson looks on while general manager of community services Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas fields a question about the proposed empty-homes tax at Vancouver City Hall Wednesday. 
Eric MacKenzie, 24 hours

Mayor Gregor Robertson looks on while general manager of community services Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas fields a question about the proposed empty-homes tax at Vancouver City Hall Wednesday. Eric MacKenzie, 24 hours

The City of Vancouver intends to have its empty-homes tax established in time for the 2017 tax year but some questions remain about which properties subject to the tax and what the cost of leaving a home unoccupied will be.

Assuming the tax is supported by council in principle at its Tuesday meeting, the city will move into a public consultation process that will help determine the tax rate and which properties should be exempt.

In a Wednesday news conference with Mayor Gregor Robertson, the city’s general manager of community services said the rate will likely fall in the range of 0.5 to 2% of a home’s assessed value.

“We understand there are lots of different reasons why people have left their homes empty,” said Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas. “We want to ensure that the exemptions are really only targeting those houses that are dark for a full 12 months.”

However, it’s still unclear if the tax will apply homes that are only occupied for a short period of the year.

“Consultation is going to help shape what that threshold is, whether it’s a month or (a different timeframe),” said Robertson. “In the initial year, staff’s feeling is that we want to give more flexibility. This may catch some people off-guard who are away for months of the year already.”

Principal residences and homes occupied by a tenant, friend or family member will be exempt. The tax would be administered through self-declaration by owners and monitored via an audit process.

Potential exemptions that could be explored include properties in probate, those under renovation or where the owner is in care, or homes occupied for the majority of the year by an owner who claims a principal residence elsewhere.

Robertson said he’ll consider the tax to be effective if it leads to more homes being added to the city’s rental stock.

“That’s how we will measure success here,” he said, adding that the city could review whether the tax is still necessary if rental vacancy rates return to normal levels.

The mayor said conservative estimates suggest the tax would return $2 million to the city to be put toward affordable housing initiatives. That figure was determined on the assumption that the tax is collected on 5% of the approximately 10,800 homes believed to be empty in Vancouver.