Amid Montreal downtown’s highrise condo buildings, there’s a good chance several units are lying empty.
The latest census data shows that there are nearly 100,000 dwellings in Montreal not occupied by usual residents.
“In a housing crisis, we cannot let a dwelling be vacant like that,” said Andrée Laforest, municipal affairs minister.
It’s why Laforest has announced new provisions in her proposed overhaul of the Municipal Taxation Act.
Bill 39 will give municipalities the power to slap taxes onto owners who keep units empty for more than 180 days or six months.
She’s proposing a tax of one per cent of the overall cost of the property.
“This measure will encourage owners to rent their units year-long,” Laforest said.
Housing advocates call it a good tool to counter real estate speculation, but they’d like to see more money invested in social housing units, and for this new provision to be applied evenly throughout the province.
“It would be even better if the Quebec government would be applying this tax instead of leaving the municipality having to do it by themselves,” said Catherine Lussier with the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).
This kind of tax is not new in Canada.
The City of Ottawa implemented one in 2022 and this year, city councillors considered scrapping it.
Critics say it’s a bureaucratic nightmare.
“Couldn’t we use our municipal resources better? Public organizations that own social housing are among those with the most empty units because they are under-maintained,” said Éric Sansoucy, chair of the board of directors of Corporation des propriétaires immobiliers du Québec (CORPIQ).
Sansoucy says the government should be focusing on creating incentives for landlords instead of punitive measures.
He says no landlord wants to have an empty unit and if they do, there’s usually a good reason.
“It is difficult to renovate, it is expensive, it is difficult to attract renovators, we’re lacking labour,” said Sansoucy, who also cites mortgage hikes as an additional issue owners are facing.
The bill will have to be discussed at the national assembly before it becomes law.