Premier Christy Clark's announcement on Sunday that a tax on foreigners buying property in Metro Vancouver will be changed to exempt people who have work permits and pay taxes in B.C. came too late for Langley resident Nic Benner.

Change of heart on foreign buyer taxes too late for Langley family

Had to give up $25,000 deposit on house near church, now renting home

Premier Christy Clark’s announcement on Sunday that a tax on foreigners buying property in Metro Vancouver will be changed to exempt people who have work permits and pay taxes in B.C. came too late for Langley resident Nic Benner.

“Unfortunately, the province did not act in time to keep me from losing my property,” Benner said.

Benner, a U.S. citizen, told the Times he was forced to back out of buying a townhouse in Langley last year because the tax raised the price by an unexpected $78,000, more than he could afford.

The residence would have been an ideal place for Benner, a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), because it was across the street from the Langley LDS temple, the only one in B.C.

After the Colorado resident was transferred to Burnaby by the high-tech consulting company he works for, he paid a non-refundable $25,000 deposit on the townhouse.

“The builder had to move on since I wasn’t able to come up with the additional money, and I do not have my deposit back,” Benner said.

He and his family are now living in a rented house in Langley.

He thinks the province ought to compensate him for the $25,000 that he lost.

“It is not clear at this point exactly where this will go, but the province should make right what they made wrong.”

In August, the B.C. government imposed a 15 per cent tax on property purchased in Metro Vancouver by non-Canadian citizens or residents in response to complaints that house prices were being driven up by offshore investors.

The law took effect after Benner made the deposit on the Langley townhouse, but it still applied because the purchase didn’t close until construction was complete

When Benner met with Fort Langley-Aldergrove  MLA and provincial minister in charge of housing, Rich Coleman to argue for an exemption, Coleman said he explained changes in tax law have to apply without exception.

Benner filed a complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), calling the tax a “blatant” violation of the agreement.

He said the director of the Investment Trade Policy Division of the federal government has since responded by telling him Victoria has been advised of the complaint, and “encouraged me to work it out with the province.”

EbyNDP housing critic David Eby (pictured) said the B.C. government’s decision to exempt people with Canadian work permits from its 15-per-cent foreign buyer tax on Metro Vancouver housing purchases should have been included when the tax was imposed last summer.

“We want the best and brightest to be able to come to British Columbia,” Clark said. “We’re going to lift the foreign owners tax on people who have work permits, who are paying taxes and living in British Columbia, as a way to encourage them to come.”

NDP housing critic David Eby said the change has been advocated by universities and technology companies who are trying to attract skilled workers and managers to move to B.C.

“The major tech firms, the major employers in the Lower Mainland like SFU and UBC, were all saying the same thing: ‘This hurts our ability to recruit the skilled workers we need. We’re already having a problem with high housing prices, and now this tax makes it even worse’.”

An NDP proposal would see an annual property tax surcharge on Metro Vancouver home owners who do not report income in B.C. Eby said there would be an exemption for long-time residents to protect existing retirees from other countries.

New immigration legislation for B.C. takes effect Feb. 1. The Provincial Immigration Programs Act governs the province’s nominee program, recommending people with in-demand skills for immigration approval by Ottawa.

The B.C. legislation sets fees for provincial nomination, allows for inspections to monitor compliance and implements a review process for refused applications.

– with files from Tom Fletcher