British Columbia

West Vancouver mayor rejects empty home tax, favours non-resident levy

West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith has asked his area MLAs to lobby government for a municipal non-resident tax, rather than the vacancy tax proposed by Vancouver.

Smith says a non-resident tax is more easily enforced and more logical than a vacancy tax

Metro Vancouver mayors are exploring different options to cool the region's red hot housing market. (Associated Press)

Division is growing among some Metro Vancouver mayors over how to best cool the region's red hot housing market.

West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith has asked his area MLAs to lobby government for a municipal non-resident tax, rather than the vacancy tax proposed by Vancouver.

"If you own a house other than the purpose to live in with your family you would pay a different tax rate," said Smith. 

"I pay a non-resident tax rate in Hawaii because I own a house there. It's a much more logical way to go than a vacancy tax because first of all how do you enforce it and everyone has a different definition of vacant."

The provincial government will be proposing changes to the Vancouver Charter next week that would allow the city to put an empty home tax  in place.

West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith is proposing a non-resident tax for West Vancouver. (CBC News)

However, the province has not received any formal applications to open the Community Charter, which would allow other municipalities to explore taxation options. 

West Vancouver is proposing non-residents pay a higher tax rate than those who use their home as a primary residence. 

"I don't see anything wrong with allowing municipalities to raise taxes as they see fit," said Smith.

Smith says his research has found a "large percentage of the buyers in recent years have been non-residents."

He says affordability is such a problem that less than 10 per cent of West Vancouver staff live in the city in which they work.

Government asks other municipalities to wait

Peter Fassbender, B.C.'s minister of community, sport and cultural development, has asked municipalities outside of Metro Vancouver to delay requests to open the Community Charter until the province can get a better sense of how it might work in Vancouver.

"I have recommended to all local governments to wait and see how this evolves with Vancouver to see what works and possibly what doesn`t work. Once that`s happened we can look at what other steps we can take either provincially or in other regions," he said.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (left) met with B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong on June 27 to discuss a proposed tax on empty homes that led to the rare summer legislative session. (CBC)

The provincial government is solely responsible for providing the statutory powers necessary within the Vancouver Charter to allow the city to implement an empty home tax. 

It would then be up to the City of Vancouver to determine the tax rate and how to measure whether a home is empty or not. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson calls it "a first step" and says he is not concerned about a patchwork of taxes that could emerge through out the region.

"I think we all share in a goal to make sure we are getting the best use out of our housing," said Robertson. "If people are using homes for business purposes, basically as an investment holding, they should be paying higher tax.

"How exactly we do that in different cities and communities, that will be for the future to decide. Ultimately, the provincial government needs to have a sensible system that works for all are communties."

The New Democratic Party has called for a speculation tax that would be region wide and collected by the province. 

"The most fair, most effective, most efficient system would be one administered by the province across the entire region of Vancouver," said NDP housing critic David Eby.