Vacant homes are such an issue in Vancouver that the city has implemented a tax in effort to encourage owners to rent unused spaces. But it seems that the problem is not contained by the city's borders.

Recent census data shows there are thousands of unoccupied residences in the suburbs. Last year, 66,719 homes in Metro Vancouver were deemed "non-resident" occupied, according to Statistics Canada.

A "non-resident" home is a blanket term used to refer to a residence that is either empty or occupied by a foreign or temporary resident. Research has shown most of those homes identified by that term are actually empty.

According to the City of Vancouver, there are at least 10,800 homes unoccupied year-round, and roughly 10,000 more that are considered under-occupied.

But the problem is spreading, a Simon Fraser University city program director says.

"The behaviour we see in Vancouver is actually slowly moving out to other parts of the region," Andy Yan told CTV News.

In Surrey, there were 11,195 homes deemed non-resident occupied in the 2016 census. There were 5,829 in Burnaby, 4,021 in Richmond, and 3,068 in Coquitlam.

Some municipalities saw dramatic increases last year: 27 per cent in North Vancouver, 35 per cent in White Rock and 79 per cent in Delta.

White Rock and North Vancouver are among the suburbs with the highest percentages of non-resident occupied homes.

Empty homes in Vancouver suburbs

Yan said the reasons behind the empty homes are worth further investigation. In addition to a shortage of available rental properties, there are consequences to neighbourhoods the empty houses are in, including implications for local businesses.

There are telltale signs to an empty house, according to one of the founders of

"You never see anybody around, there's garbage starting to collect, the house is starting to look a bit dated, things are falling off the roof," Christine Boehringer listed.

Boehringer, a Coquitlam resident, created Lonely Homes as a way for neighbours to report suspected empty homes around Metro Vancouver.

"Empty homes are great if people aren't trying to find a place to live, but the more people are spending on housing, the less money is available to spend on other things," she said.

She hopes the website will get more people, and more politicians, talking about the implications of the growing number of empty homes in the region.

"Over the last few years the cost of buying a home here has escalated significantly and more homes are being built further away from the city centres into natural areas," the website says.

"Home costs are increasing in an unsustainable way."

Lonely Homes calls the number of empty houses "shocking," saying that the number of vacant properties could house a small city.

So far, the site says, most of the properties in Metro Vancouver reported are single-family homes valued at an average of $1.53 million, a number calculated by closely examining a random sample of 55 reported homes.

The site's founders hope to see more local governments put measures in place to "encourage the release of lonely homes" into the rental market.

"Homes should not be commodities, they should be available for people to live in and raise their families," the website says.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber