City of Vancouver faces multiple lawsuits regarding Empty Homes Tax
Vancouver's Empty Homes Tax bylaw is a first of its kind in Canada, and bills for hundreds of thousands of dollars are owed to the city. The tax requires homeowners to pay a one per cent levy based on the assessed value of their home if they live there for less than six months per year. Home and business owners are now filing petitions in B.C. Supreme Court to try to get their bills thrown out.
Case One: Accidentally filing wrong year leads to $134,725 bill
Sau Po Wong lives in a Shaunessy home that's now on the market, listed for $16.9 million. He's a retired businessman, and according to court documents made a mistake that landed him a hefty empty home tax bill.
The case outlined in court documents says he "mistakenly uploaded copies of a utility bill, a notice of assessment, and government correspondence relating to 2018 – not 2017." Because of the mistake, the city claims to have contacted him in the fall for clarification, but he says he was travelling for three months and never received the letter or a phone call.
"Because he didn't give them the information they were looking for to support his declaration, the city is then under the bylaw entitled to take the position that it was vacant despite his declaration because he didn't give them the information," said his lawyer Ryan Parsons. "It was unfortunate."
Wong was given a $128,310 bill and had a 34 day deadline to pay it or else he'd be subject to an additional five percent penalty.
"Mr. Wong arrived home six days after that 34 days expired," said Parsons. So Wong now owes the City of Vancouver $134,725.
Parsons is hopeful the court will grant the extension or, "send it back to the review officer to give consideration it the extension request."
The lawsuit was filed June 28; the City of Vancouver has 21 days to respond.
Case Two: Late building permits lead to $304,336 bill
Court documents submitted by Pure West Financial Holdings Group claim the empty homes tax bill the city sent them is "unreasonable and constitutes an error in face and in law."
The company had been in the process of redeveloping the area of 5189 and 5289 Cambie street into a 134-unit residential building, which according to the petition started in August 2016.
In April 2018, Pure West Financial received an audit determination from the City of Vancouver stating, "the redevelopment was subject to a vacancy tax and that it did not qualify for an exemption for reason that all associated building permits were issued after July 1, 2017."
In the petition, however, Pure West Financial claims, "the redevelopment exemption does not require all building permits to have been issued prior to July 1, 2017, nor does it specify which permits must be issued."
Including the interest and late fees, CTV News has learned Pure West Financial is facing a $304,336 bill as of May 30, 2018.
The petition was filed May 28. On June 18, the City of Vancouver responded and said, "the decision of the Vacancy Tax Review Panel is both reasonable and correct."
Lawyers for Pure West Financial are now looking at booking a hearing date in the coming months.
Case Three: Apartment was occupied by renter and owner for "more than 6 months"
Jufen Wang owns an apartment in Kitsilano. That unit was subject to a $3,881 tax bill for 2017, even though Wang provided evidence "that the property was occupied cumulatively in excess of 6 months during 2017."
Documents provided include TV and internet bills, bank statements, insurance letters and BC Hydro invoices, all of which "show the variable daily consumption indicating when the property was occupied," according to court documents.
But the city had an issue with the hydro bills, stating "some of the utility bills are addressed to a different person." Wang claims her daughter handles the bills with power of attorney so some of the bills are under her name.
Wang claims she lived there 6 months of the year in 2017 and that for the rest of the time, "it was successfully rented as furnished accommodation." There is also an affidavit from the building's strata manager providing evidence the unit was rented. They claim to have declared the property as primary residence based on "city staff's guidance."
Based on her petition, Wang is asking for an "order to cancel the empty home tax" or to have the city cover the costs.
None of these allegations have been tested in court. The city declined an interview saying all of these cases are before the courts. The only case they've responded to is the petition filed by Pure West.
The full court documents follow. Viewing this on our mobile beta site? Tap here for a compatible version.