December 19, 2017 9:00 am
Updated: December 19, 2017 7:43 pm

Vancouver woman being charged Empty Homes Tax for land with no home on it

Jane Macdougall says she's being charged the empty homes tax for this empty lot.

Charmaine de Silva

A Vancouver woman said she’s being unfairly targeted by the city and its Empty Homes Tax over a property she owns in the Kerrisdale area.

It’s not that the home isn’t empty. It’s that there’s no home on the property whatsoever.

LISTEN: Empty Homes Tax oddity when it comes to vacant land

Vancouver approved the tax in July, in a bid to boost rental stock in the city. Under the new rules, owners of units that are left empty for more than six months of the year will be taxed at one per cent of their assessed value.

READ MORE: Vancouver City Council to view Empty Homes Tax fine proposal on Tuesday

But Jane Macdougall is scratching her head about why she’ll be saddled with a tax bill of between $40,000 and $60,000.

Not only does her plot of land at 6161 Macdonald St. not have an empty home, it’s never had anything built on it at all.

Macdougall said she only realized the tax applied to her when the city sent declaration forms to property owners last month.

“I couldn’t find a box that actually responded to what this property was. I mean it’s virgin land, it’s never had a structure on it,” she said.

“And I couldn’t find anything that addressed that it wasn’t a property in development. There was just no category that addressed what this property was.”

WATCH: Vancouver criticized for empty home tax PR campaign

She contacted the city and said she was told she would have to pay the tax, since the land could be used for housing.

“I said, ‘But there’s no home on this property, there’s never been a home on this property.’ And they said ‘well then, you have to build one.'”

Macdougall tried to develop the property in the past, but said she gave up after running into too much red tape through the city.

“Because of the setbacks as well as tree placement. I had dealt with an architect for a while who actually just didn’t want to deal with the job. She said the city will be too much of a problem in this,” Macdougall said.

“You should be able to understand the documents and move forward in an orderly fashion where your entire life isn’t consumed by these processes.”

She also tried to sell the lot earlier this year, but took it off the market when she couldn’t find a buyer at the assessed value.

“I am not denying housing stock to the City of Vancouver. But on the other hand I’m not really capable of becoming a developer to supply social housing to the city,” Macdougall said.

Architect and real estate consultant Michael Geller said the tax was intended to get people with empty homes and condos to rent them out, not force people to develop land that has never been developed.

“If the city is seriously suggesting the owner of a vacant lot which has never had a house is obligated to pay the empty home tax, then something is terribly, terribly, wrong.”

Geller said he has talked to many Vancouver lawyers who suggest there are problems with the way the Empty Homes Tax bylaw was drafted, with wording that creates ambiguity.

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He added that forcing someone to build to rent could create a slippery slope, with outcomes such as forcing someone to build a laneway house just because they could.

Asked about Macdougall’s case, the city said one of the functions of the Empty Homes Tax is to encourage owners of vacant land to develop their properties.

READ MORE: Deadline looms for City of Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax

The city also doesn’t want to see people demolishing homes to avoid the tax, said a spokesperson.

However, the city couldn’t explain why there’s no exemption for vacant land that has never had a dwelling on site, especially considering how long and difficult the development process can be.

The city is reviewing Macdougall’s case to see if she has any other options, the spokesperson said.


Disclosure:  Jane Macdougall is related to an employee of Corus Entertainment.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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