5 Things You Need To Know About The Empty Homes Tax

Your FAQ on everything from interesting exemptions to potential penalties.

While we’re all counting down the hours to the Canada Day long weekend, this Saturday marks a milestone of another sort. July 1 is the last day residential property owners in Vancouver have to find a tenant for vacant homes, or else they may have to pay up. The controversial Empty Homes Tax kicked in early this year, putting property owners potentially on the hook for one percent of the property’s assessed value for homes that go unoccupied for six months of the year or more. Because no one wants to spend these sunny summer days parsing city policy, we’ve put together a handy list of the top five facts you need to know about the controversial tax.What Does And Doesn’t Apply?First off, the tax does not apply to “principal residences” that are occupied by the owner, their family members, or a friend, for at least six months out of the year. What constitutes a principal residence, you ask?  The city determines that based on the address given on official documentation—things like income tax returns, government-issued identification such as diver’s licenses or vehicle registrations, utility bills, etc. If you’re a principal homeowner who likes to head south for the winter, never fear; the tax does not limit how long you can travel but if you haven’t linked what you consider to be your principal residence to these kinds of documents, you should. Otherwise the property could then fall subject to the tax.Owners of an unoccupied, non-principal residence—like an investment property or a secondary residence—will be expected to pay one percent of the overall assessed cost of the property, unless it’s rented out for six months out of the year or more.But there are a number of surprising exemptions to the tax—notably basement suites, secondary suites and lane way houses included on or in principal properties; those are not subject to the tax and can remain unoccupied. Other exemptions include houses under construction or renovation, or those with permits showing they’re about to be, or if the legal ownership changed at some point during the year, either to a family member or through property sale.How Does The City Keep Track?Come December, the city will be issuing instructions explaining how owners of residential properties should complete a mandatory “property status declaration,” that will sort properties into four categories: principal residence, tenanted, eligible for exemption, and vacant. These declarations are not available yet and won’t be until a to-be-determined date in December, but the due date for completed declarations is already set: February 2, 2018. Any homeowners that are notified that they are subject to an audit will be expected to provide evidence their home indeed fits with the declaration they’ve made and/or any exemption filed. The evidence needed depends on the category of the declaration but again, it is mostly official documentation like certificates of title.What Are The Details Of Occupancy?Residences must be occupied in for a minimum of 180 days (six months) to avoid the tax. But in a regular year, it doesn’t need to be consecutive. Homes only need to be occupied 30 days at a time, meaning the six months can be broken up into chunks or separate leases over the year. But because the tax was officially introduced on Jan. 1st of this year, only leases that have been entered into on or before July 1 will have the requisite number of days of occupancy at the end of this year to avoid the tax. That means if you’re sitting on an empty home right now, you need to find a tenant for the rest of the year ASAP.What Happens If I Don’t Pay?Anyone subject to the tax would be wise to make the payment before the April 18, 2018 deadline. The late penalty is an additional five percent of the overall property value. Similarly, those who try to play the system will face a $10,000-per-day fine for continuing to give false declarations about their property.What Will The Tax Money Will Be Used For?It was estimated that there are an approximate 10,800 year-round empty homes in Vancouver, according to a 2016 study by Ecotagious that looked at data on electricity consumption provided by BC Hydro. The city has said any revenue from the empty homes tax will be reinvested into affordable housing initiatives, like paying the long-term leases for city-owned land and providing grants to non-profit partners.