What to do if you feel 'unfairly' targeted by the B.C. speculation tax
While the province says 85 per cent of speculation and vacancy tax declarations have been returned ahead of the March 31 deadline, homeowners who feel they are being “unfairly” targeted, or who can’t pay the bill can only defer it in specific circumstances.
Nancy Strain’s father built a getaway in the 1960s by floating in logs and beams to Belcarra. Now, she and family members are facing a speculation tax bill of about $5,000.
She insists she’s not a speculator and, because the cabin is often used by her family on weekends and for holidays, it’s not technically empty. She notes her limited income would make it hard to pay.
“That would be a real hardship for me,” she told CTV. “I'd have to take out a loan I guess.”
Strain points to comments made by Finance Minister Carole James as evidence that people like Strain are not the target of the tax.
In 2018, James told reporters “the purpose of the speculation tax is to make sure that we get speculators who are using our housing market as a stock market out of the business. So we are not aiming at British Columbians with cabins.”
Yet some seniors in Belcarra say for them, it’s a cabin tax. They insist their places can’t be rented out in some cases due to lack of insulation or direct access roads. They’re now on the hook for thousands of dollars that they say they can’t pay on limited income. They’re not alone.
Andrew Weaver supports the idea of taxing speculators and satellite families but says implementation has been a wreck. He says he’s been contacted by those who feel they are caught in the crossfire.
“You don't want to hurt people you hadn't thought of,” Weaver told CTV.
Among those being impacted are military families, said Weaver. He thinks that’s wrong.
Weaver said he’s also been contacted by a couple who has split up. One has undergone a gender identity change, and is living in a second home owned by the pair. They have no plans to divorce, and so according to the law, one of them is on the hook for the speculation tax because she is on the title of the second home but not living there. It’s the type of situation that Weaver says needs a “common sense” resolution. He thinks the government will have to change something.
Until then, he’s encouraging people to take a close look at the ministry website that details exemptions available.
Once every 10 years, individuals may claim an exemption on their principal residence, if they’ve lived it in the year prior. That may be a way out for military families, but won’t work for people like Strain.
An appeals process says only those who think there’s been a technical mistake, can go that route, not those who disagree with it. Again, this is not for cabin owners.
Other options include writing to the finance minister with the hopes public pressure could lead to a chance. Whether you appeal or not, the ministry advises paying the bill first, so as to avoid interest charges.
CTV tried for several days to get the minister on-camera to answer questions but was told she was not available. We were sent a vague statement which didn’t address any of our questions.
“The government has decided that either we pay the tax or they take over the use of the cabin by renting it,” said Strain. “It's like a vulture has come in and taken our valuables.”
While she applauds efforts to address the housing crisis, Strain would like to see a dispute resolution system so maybe she and others won’t feel like collateral damage.