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One in 10 Vancouver homeowners faces Empty Homes fine

Have you filed your declaration yet? Only four days left to avoid penalty
Vancouver property owners have until Friday, Feb. 2 to submit their empty homes tax declaration. Pho
Vancouver property owners have until Friday, Feb. 2 to submit their empty homes tax declaration. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Standing in front of a sign that read, “What’s a home without people?” Mayor Gregor Robertson urged owners of some 21,000 homes across Vancouver to submit their empty homes tax declarations before Friday’s deadline.

Roughly 11 per cent of Class 1 residential property owners in Vancouver have yet to submit the necessary documentation ahead of this weekend’s deadline. In some cases, the penalties can be punitive: the tax will be charged at one per cent of the property’s 2017 assessed taxable value, along with a $250 fine.

“Almost all Vancouverites will not be paying this tax,” Robertson said. “They live in their homes and it doesn’t apply. But we need people to declare that on the form, just as they go through the process with their property tax.” 

Chief finance officer Patrice Impey wouldn’t disclose how many property owners have actually declared their residences as being vacant. Instead, she said all conceivable declarations have been submitted at this point: rental properties, principle residences, vacant and more.

Both Impey and Robertson noted that last-minute stragglers aren’t necessarily a new phenomenon. The city does see a rush for similar requirements — property tax payments, for example. But given that the program’s infancy, some assistance may be needed.

To that end, city hall will remain open until 8 p.m. on Feb. 1 for in-person assistance.

Under the city’s $7.4-million empty homes tax program, which was adopted in late 2016, owners are required to rent out their empty or under-utilized, non-principal properties for at least six months of the year.

The six months don’t have to be consecutive, but must be in periods of 30 or more consecutive days.

The city estimates there are 25,000 empty or underutilized homes in the city as many Vancouver residents struggle to find an affordable place to live.

Whether the city fully covers its $7.4-million administrative and implementation costs will be flushed out likely by the fall.

Results from the city’s audit program for the empty homes tax will also be released at that time. Impey was mum on audit details to preserve the integrity of a process that’s not fully begun, though she characterized the process as “random and risk based.”

The audit is being done to ensure homeowners comply with the new tax. If properties are selected for an audit, homeowners will be notified by letter requesting information or evidence to support their declaration. False declarations can result in fines of up to $10,000 per day of the continuing offense, in addition to payment of the tax.

Here’s how to submit empty homes tax declarations before the deadline of Friday, Feb. 2:

  • Online at vancouver.ca/eht-declare.
  • In person at city hall. Regular hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are extended this Thursday, Feb. 1 to 8 p.m. to assist homeowners with making their declarations.
  • Over the phone by calling 3-1-1. Homeowners can declare by calling 3-1-1 between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  daily. Those living outside Vancouver can call 604-873-7000. Homeowners who require a translator to submit their declaration can call 3-1-1 to access translation services.
  • Residential property owners can receive technical and information support for submitting their online declaration at any Vancouver Public Library location. For opening hours and locations, visit vpl.ca/hours-locations.

jkurucz@vancourier.com

@JohnKurucz