British Columbia

'Our property tax is more than our rent': Tax hike could force West End business mainstay to close

The Chocolate Mousse store in Vancouver's West End says it will likely close when its lease is up in 2019 due to unreasonable tax increases.

The Chocolate Mousse Kitchenware store saw their property tax increase 92% from the last tax period

After 32 years in the West End, Karen Tennant and her sister are reluctant to move their business to another area . (Christer Waara/CBC)

It's been more than 30 years since sisters Karen and Jane Tennant opened the Chocolate Mousse Kitchenware etc. store.

But after decades as a West End business staple, the pair fear they may soon have to close up shop, citing a property tax increase of 92.7 per cent.

"Our tax is more than what we negotiated per square foot for our rent which makes it quite unaffordable for us," Karen said.

The increase is based on the value of the property, which has grown exponentially over the past year. The sisters say B.C. Assessment appraised the property at $16 million in 2016 and  $52 million in 2017.

Karen (left) and Jane (right) Tennant have been running Chocolate Mousse Kitchenware, etc. for more than 30 years. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The building falls under new zoning regulations as per the West End Community Plan and was sold for over $79 million within the past month.

"We have new owners who we have not spoken to yet in conjunction with our property tax increase and it's just not great for the store."

Nowhere to go

The Tennants have been in the neighbourhood for 32 years and are reluctant to move their business. 

"We want to stay here where our customers are because that makes more sense to serve people that know us and love us," Karen Tennant said. "We don't really want to have to start all over again because this is where we live."

The Chocolate Mousse shop has been at its current location on Robson Street for more than 20 years, after moving from a smaller home across the street. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The sisters say they'll likely have to close the store for good once its lease expires in January of 2019.

"We don't want to stand in the way of progress. The city needs to move forward but it needs to have small interesting shops that aren't chains."

Push to change policy

Paul Sullivan, a property tax agent with Burgess Cawley Sullivan & Associates Ltd, says that although a tax increase of this much is shocking, it's not unheard of.

"We've seen up to 3,000 percent," said Sullivan adding that future zoning changes could lead to further property tax increases.

Paul Sullivan wants to change policy so that businesses in interim-use properties won't have to pay taxes based on redevelopment potential. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Sullivan, who represents the majority of the West End Business Improvement Association and affiliated businesses, would like to see some policy changes that would allow for what he calls a "reasonable distribution of taxation".

"The problem that we have here is that we have merchants who are trying to earn a living, providing local independent businesses and having to deal with incredible complicated tax structures ... they don't see these things coming."

With files from On the Coast and Belle Puri