B.C. Liberal finance critic Shirley Bond. (Hansard TV)

Condo rental bans may be on way out with B.C. empty home tax

Many exemptions to tax, but annual declarations required

Forcing B.C. strata councils to remove restrictions on rentals is part of the B.C. NDP government’s speculation tax that is taking effect this year, opposition critics say.

The move was not formally announced, but guidelines for the imposition of the vacant home tax say strata councils won’t be able to restrict rentals after 2019. B.C. Liberal finance critic Shirley Bond said the change was recommended last year by the government’s rental housing task force, and “just happens to coincide with the tax taking effect.

“It certainly looks like the NDP have been planning all along to eliminate the rental restriction powers of strata councils,” Bond said Wednesday. “The NDP have been creating tax policy on the fly and the so-called speculation tax is a perfect example of that. It looks like strata property owners are next on the hit list.”

Finance Minister Carole James said Wednesday the final decision isn’t made yet on existing strata bylaws, after a two-year exemption period from the tax for owners who aren’t allowed to rent their vacant condo. The government’s rental task force recommended in December that rental restrictions be scrapped to allow empty apartments to be rented and ease the housing shortage in urban areas.

The finance ministry announced Tuesday that all residential property owners have to file a declaration to claim an exemption to the tax. Letters are to go out starting this week with instructions on how to claim an exemption, and those who don’t will be billed for the new tax.

RELATED: Letters going all homeowners in B.C. speculation tax communities

VIDEO: Carole James unmoved by mayors’ speculation tax concerns

The government says 99 per cent of B.C. residents won’t have to pay the speculation tax, although all registered property owners in affected urban areas will have to file a declaration every year to qualify for exemptions.

Even if owners miss the March 31 deadline to file a declaration and get a tax notice to pay the extra, there will be time to apply for the exemption before payment is due in early July or even after payment is due.

Among the exemptions is for a condo property where a strata bylaw prevents rentals, but finance ministry tax guides say that is only for the 2018 and 2019 tax years.

“When a covenant or strata bylaw prevents the property from being rented out in a manner that would allow a rental exemption, all owners of the property are exempt for the 2018 and 2019 tax years only, as long as the rental restriction was in place on or before Oct. 16, 2018,” the ministry guide says. “The owner must have purchased the property before that date.”

Other exemptions to the vacant home tax include properties that house an operating licensed daycare, and those that are vacant because of a separation, divorce or death of an owner, and if it is occupied by an approved tenant at least six months of the year.

After protests from urban municipalities and extended negotiations between the NDP government and the B.C. Green Party, the property tax now applies only to Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria and the municipalities of Nanaimo, Lantzville, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Kelowna and West Kelowna. The rate was reduced to 0.5 per cent for all Canadian owners at the insistence of B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver, who earlier objected to it being applied to vacation homes in the Gulf Islands.

For foreign owners and “satellite families,” where much of the household income is not taxed in Canada, the rate is two per cent of the assessed value.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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