Victoria Coun. Geoff Young.

Victoria eyes tax on vacant, derelict homes

Victoria could soon be following in the footsteps of Vancouver when it comes to taxing vacant and derelict homes.

Victoria could soon be following in the footsteps of Vancouver when it comes to implementing a tax on vacant and derelict homes in the city.

Council recently approved a motion seeking support from a number of local governments and organizations to lobby the provincial government to extend the authority to introduce a surtax on vacant and derelict residential properties to local governments.

The motion, put forward by councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday, doesn’t ask for the province to implement the tax immediately in the city, but is asking the province to give municipalities the ability to implement a tax, should they see fit.

“I’m not 100 per cent convinced that if we had the authority we would use it,” Loveday said during a meeting Thursday. “We would need the data and the research, but I do think it should be a tool we should have in our tool kit . . . (Municipalities) should be able to implement it just as Vancouver has been able to do.”

In November, the City of Vancouver approved the Empty Home Tax — the first of its kind in Canada — in which a one per cent tax is imposed on homes that are not principal residences or aren’t rented out for at least six months of the year.

The tax was meant to help the city’s rental vacancy rate, which is currently sitting around 0.6 per cent, by persuading owners of empty apartments and houses to put them up for rent.

Victoria’s housing crisis has mirrored Vancouver’s in recent years, with the rental vacancy rate around 0.6 per cent as well, spurring city council to come up with a number of ways to increase the rate such as making it easier to build garden suites.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the city shouldn’t implement a vacant home tax, but should have the authority to tax derelict buildings.

“They’re easy to identify, they’re boarded up, they’re unsafe, they’re an eyesore,” she said, adding a vacancy tax is “woefully unfair,” and discourages community by encourages citizens to police citizens.

Coun. Margaret Lucas agreed, saying she doesn’t want to see neighbours pitted against others to help identify homes that are vacant.

If a vacant tax were to be implemented in the city, Isitt suggested a system in which homeowners make a declaration, which would then go to the finance department, who would have the ability to audit certain homes.

In a similar motion in response to the city’s housing crisis, Young and Isitt called on the province to restore local governments’ ability to introduce a land value tax, to incentivize improvements to a house, and create a disincentive to holding vacant property for speculative purposes.

“One of the things that happens when people let their property go derelict or the roof caves in and they don’t fix it and the rain comes in . . . the improvements become valueless and the taxes go down, it’s the opposite of what you want to happen,” Young said.

“When you move the tax onto the land, you’re taxing what they can’t take away.”

Both motions will go to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities annual convention in April, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities annual convention in September, and will be sent to other local governments asking for resolutions of support.