VICTORIA -- Once again, the B.C. government has tweaked the Speculation and Vacancy Tax after homeowners and advocates insisted it was unfairly targeting family cabins.

Changes introduced Tuesday provide an exemption for homeowners whose properties are accessible only by water. Those who paid the tax for 2018 and are now exempt will get a refund.

Belcarra Mayor Neil Belenkie described the shift as "bittersweet." He estimated 57 properties would no longer be hit by the tax.

"Those 57 will be positively impacted by this exemption, but there are another five or ten that have owned their cottages, built them by hand 50- or 60-plus years ago, who are obviously not speculators and they still haven't been exempted by the tax," said Belenkie.

The mayor vowed to continue to advocate for changes.

Finance Minister Carole James said she listened to feedback before announcing the latest changes.

Asked whether that was an admission the government initially got it wrong, James said "not at all." 

"When you bring in a new tax there are going to be recommendations and ideas and my commitment from the start was to make sure I was listening to the people of British Columbia," she added.

Yet for months appeals from Belcarra cabin owners, the same ones now exempt, seemed to go nowhere.

The tax – introduced by the NDP government for the 2018 tax year – is supposed to target those driving up real estate costs or leaving homes empty in low vacancy areas. The goal is to open up more homes to rentals and create more affordable housing.

After an initial outcry, the NDP made its first set of changes, adjusting where the tax applied. The government also lowered the rate paid by British Columbians, and introduced a tax credit.

Belenkie said he was at a meeting of mayors impacted by the new tax policy in September. He said most wanted nothing to do with it.

"That’s not indicative of a well applied tax – 20-plus municipalities asking to opt out of the tax," said Belenkie.

Belenkie said he knows of two families, he called them “international residents” who had been in the community for about 20 years each, who sold their homes.

There's another retroactive exemption for military families in active service. And in 2019, the tax rate for foreign owners and satellite families will rise to two per cent. British Columbians and other Canadian citizens will continue to pay 0.5 per cent.

The tax applies to secondary homes that aren’t occupied for the majority of the year, in the following regions:

  • Municipalities within the Capital Regional District, excluding Salt Spring Island, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area and the Southern Gulf Islands
  • The Metro Vancouver Regional District, excluding Bowen Island, the Village of Lions Bay and Electoral area A, but including UBC and the University Endowment Lands
  • The City of Abbotsford
  • The District of Mission
  • The City of Chilliwack
  • The City of Kelowna
  • The City of West Kelowna
  • The City of Nanaimo
  • The District of Lantzville

More information is available on the government's website.