Why are people who live in their homes getting dinged by the empty homes tax?
Vancouver’s empty homes tax was designed to create more rental property but even some people who live in their homes are being forced to shell out big bucks to pay for the fee.
Kelly Hayes works as a midwife in Vancouver, and stays at the condo which her husband Wayne owns, one to three weeks every month. The rest of the time she lives with her husband at their principal residence on Salt Spring Island.
“As you can see it’s far from vacant,” she said as she tours Ross McLaughlin around the suite, “This is my home, how can I rent this out?”
But when they filling out the online empty homes tax declaration, the condo didn't fit the boxes.
Yet it appears as though she will be forced to pay nearly $8,000 in Empty Homes Tax.
"And I honestly thought as I worked my way through there was going to be a button to push and say you're exempt. Your house isn't empty," she explained.
Hayes printed off a number of letters to the mayor and the city pleading for an exemption. But she couldn’t get them to budge.
"If this truly is about opening up rental units, you need to go back and rethink it. If it's not, shame on you. It's a money grab. That's all it is and it's causing harm," she argued.
When McLaughlin on Your Side contacted city officials, they said they wouldn’t talk about the empty homes tax on camera, but there’s very little wiggle room for those who own second homes in Vancouver.
For Hayes to continue to work in the city, her husband would be forced to put her name on the title of the condo which he has owned before they got married, or declare it as her principal residence, which it's not. An owner could also avoid the tax by leasing for six months a year, but Hayes can't do that as she needs to live there while she's working in Vancouver.
"There are a lot of sad stories out there," said real estate lawyer Richard Bell.
Bell says he’s received a number of calls, including from people who are renovating. Delays in city permits are causing people to be subject to the tax as well.
"I don't think [the city] took the appropriate amount of time to really analyze all the fact patterns," he said.
Vancouver Coun. Melissa De Genova sees the tax as problematic and is calling on the city to re-examine it.
“This is hurting people who come to Vancouver and stay here for an extended time, more than six months of the year," she explained, “So I'm bringing a motion forward at council to try and address some of these issues, and at the very least to amend the by-law."
De Genova was shut down before she even got started. She says her motion was called out of order by Vision Vancouver. But she’s not giving up. She’ll try to attack the problem another way.
“Put in a special circumstances exemption that will be assessed case by case,” said Hayes, "This I feel puts my career at risk in terms of being able to continue working in the city. It's not ok. It's not.”