British Columbia

West Vancouver seeks higher tax rate for investment properties

The District of West Vancouver wants to levy a higher property tax on investment properties, but it won't involve tracking vacancies or foreign citizenship.

Councillor Craig Cameron said the idea is much simpler than trying to identify empty or vacant homes

West Vancouver is proposing to tax investment properties at a higher rate than principal residences occupied by their owners. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The District of West Vancouver wants to levy a higher property tax on investment properties, but it won't involve tracking vacancies or foreign citizenship.

Councillor Craig Cameron said the idea is much simpler.

"We are proposing a house tax that applies to all houses that somebody owns that are not designated their principal residence."

Cameron says much like Vancouver's vacant home tax, people would have to declare if a home is a principal residence when they pay their property taxes.

But unlike Vancouver's proposal to exempt rented homes and target only those left vacant, West Vancouver's tax would apply to all homes that are not the owner's own principal residence.

"It has nothing to with vacancy," he says.

Cameron says this model would be easier to enforce.

"I think there are great challenges in implementing the vacant home tax.... Where do you draw the line between whether the house is vacant and isn't vacant. Someone who goes away to Palm Springs for three months — is that house vacant or not?

And unlike the province's 15 per cent foreign buyers tax, it has nothing to do with the citizenship of the owner.

But Cameron notes it will affect those who don't pay income tax in Canada, because once they designate a home in Canada as a principal residence, they will to start.

"It will make people think twice about claiming a principal residence if they don't want to also pay income tax in Canada," he says.

At the moment, owners of investment properties are already excluded from claiming the provincial home owner's grant, which only applies to principal residences.

Preserving and increasing affordable housing

Cameron says the program has two aims — maintaining and increasing the amount of affordable housing in the district, which is known as one of Canada's most affluent communities.

"What we are trying to address is maintaining a stable and affordable housing stock for our residents. Secondly, we want to raise funds to build affordable rental or affordable units for sale."

"Most of the people who work in West Vancouver I don't think can afford to live here and most can't afford to live on the North Shore. Most have to commute from far out in the Fraser Valley for example, and that is creating huge traffic problems."

He notes about 95 per cent of first responders don't live in the community, and that could be a real problem during a crisis such as an earthquake.

"It is probably a bigger issue in West Vancouver than anywhere else.... We are talking about first responders, municipal staff, pretty much everyone who works the business in West Vancouver."

He says if nothing is done, the community is going to end up as an empty enclave for the wealthy.

"We are going to end up with a community that isn't representative, isn't diverse, isn't very vibrant, It is going to end up being hollowed out and we are going to end up with one demographic in the community."

Tax rate and legislation still to be determined

Cameron says they're still trying to work out what the tax rate would be, but says it would not be unreasonable.

"We are talking about an incremental increase. It is not something that would be punitive."

In order to role out the new tax rate, the district first needs the province to amend the Community Charter to allow them to levy the tax.

He says the city has already approached the B.C. government and there has been "no immediate rejection of the idea."

"They have asked us to go back and put together a short proposal."

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