Vancouver resident, Jason Weselowski was unfortunately caught by the draconian “deeming provision” set out in s.7 of the Vancouver Empty Homes Tax Bylaw.
Mr. Weselowksi was levied with an $8,000.00 tax penalty (1% of the assessed value of his property) for failing to file the EHT declaration even though his home was occupied during the relevant time period.
His reason for missing the deadline was due to his ongoing medical treatments for stage 3 colon cancer. He also missed the appeal deadline in December 2019 because he was hospitalized again.
Despite battling his illness, Mr. Weselowksi commenced a two year battle with City Hall to have the levy rescinded in order to get his money back.
Kudos to him for keeping up the fight, which ultimately resulted in a just result.
However, Mr. Weselowski was not alone in being unfairly levied with a penalty under the Empty Homes Tax despite the property being occupied or otherwise exempt. According to the CBC article noted above, the City of Vancouver estimates that “in 2017 alone more than 120 property owners complained that they missed the cut-off for filing the EHT declaration, citing everything from city notices sent to incorrect mailing addresses to medical issues.”
Since the EHT was passed, city officials have steadfastly refused all requests for late filing after the statutory deadline, citing s.7 of the Act which deems the home to be vacant if the declaration was not filed on time and the appeal period has run out.
However, in an apparent about-face, city of Vancouver councilors recently voted to give property owners who missed the empty homes tax deadline in 2017 and 2018 the opportunity to file late declarations.
The above-referenced article asserts that late declarations (for 2017 and 2018) will now be allowed until December 31, 2020, and the 2019 late declaration deadline will be extended to July 2021.
I contacted the city of Vancouver EHT department on May 15, 2020, and while they could not confirm the extension dates mentioned in the story, they did indicate that city council had voted to extend the late filing dates and that a council meeting to outline the details would be forthcoming in June.
One of my clients who found himself in the same predicament as Mr. Weselowski (although for different reasons) was actually told by city staff that he should be happy to pay the levy “because the money was being put to good use! (I.e. for affordable housing)
Did the City of Vancouver really have a change of heart for benevolent reasons? Was it due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Or was the city was embarrassed into changing its position due to the adverse publicity generated by Mr. Weselowski’s plight?
Regardless of the reason, the city of Vancouver has done the right thing by allowing property owners to claim legitimate exemptions under the EHT after the hard deadline in Vacancy Bylaw has passed.
As the ostensible purpose of the EHT was to ensure that residential properties in Vancouver were occupied, it was manifestly unfair to charge owners the full 1% of assessed value penalty for simply failing to file a form (when the property was in fact in compliance with the Act!)
The $250 late filing fee should have been penalty enough for late filing.
Vancouver has the dubious honor of being the first and only city to have an EHT and to add insult to injury, it is also subject to the BC government’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax.
In the writer’s view, neither tax accomplishes its stated purpose of putting more rental units into play in the low vacancy landscape of British Columbia. Accordingly, both should be summarily repealed.
© 2020 Pazder Law Corporation
Questions: contact Kenneth Pazder or Melissa Valana at 604-682-1509
DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice, but is presented for information and discussion purposes only. Always consult with a lawyer or other relevant professional before making a decision based on any information or opinions contained herein, as laws and government policies change frequently.