Real estate in Vancouver: the tax on empty houses increases again

It will soon cost more to own an empty residential property in Vancouver as a motion for another tax hike is approved.

The city’s empty house tax — imposed on owners who don’t live in or rent out their properties — will increase to 5% next year.

Previously, these landlords had to pay an additional 3% in taxes as part of the measure to encourage long-term rental of empty homes.

The measure, put in place years ago, was in response to a near-zero vacancy rate in Vancouver that resulted in exorbitant rents for the limited supply of housing. Since it was imposed, the available supply has improved, although landlords continue to ask for more rent each year.

The move was also intended to discourage landlords from using their properties solely for the arguably more profitable short-term rental system, through sites like Airbnb. Those wishing to rent on these sites can still do so, but require a business license and can only rent their space if it is the owner’s primary residence or a secondary suite in which the operator lives most of the time.

The motion to raise the tax again was introduced by Mayor Kennedy Stewart, and also called for the number of audits to more than double – to 20,000 by 2023, from 9,000 previously.

The approved proposal also asked city staff to report to council early next year on how the tax can be used to reduce the ‘large number of short-term rental properties’, how exemptions can be changed to ensure fairness and how it will be affected by recently approved federal measures.

Additionally, the mayor asked staff to consider how a doubled rate of 10% might impact the city’s rental market. As to whether this tax hike is actually a possibility, 2022 is a municipal election year, so it may depend as much on who runs the city after the vote as it does on the results of research by staff members.

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