July 6, 2019 1:16 pm
Updated: July 7, 2019 9:09 pm

City of Vancouver facing multiple lawsuits over empty homes tax

Homes are pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2019. Four lawsuits have now been launched against the City of Vancouver for unfairly levying the city's empty homes tax in 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
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The City of Vancouver is facing multiple court challenges over its empty homes tax — all of which have been filed over the past six weeks.

At least two homeowners and one developer have taken issue with bills they received in 2017 during the first year of the controversial tax, which range from under $4,000 to roughly $289,000.

The petitions were filed in B.C. Supreme Court after appeals to the city were denied.

WATCH: (Aired Feb. 19, 2018) Growing opposition to empty homes tax

Vancouver’s empty homes tax took effect in 2017 as a way to fight back against rampant speculation and foreign ownership that left many homes in the city empty during the recent housing crisis.

The policy requires homeowners to prove their homes are occupied for at least six months out of the year by either themselves or renters. Otherwise, they’re charged an additional one per cent tax on the property’s assessed value.

READ MORE: Vancouver council to vote on looking at increase to Empty Homes Tax

More than 2,500 homes within the city were found to be vacant during the first year of the tax. The city earned $38 million from the tax during 2017.

Another 331 property owners were charged the tax after an audit was performed on an additional 6,000 properties, raising an additional $6.2 million.

But the homeowners and developer who filed the lawsuits all argue they should have never been charged the tax, claiming they applied for permits or submitted proof of their residency before the city’s deadline.

WATCH: (Aired April 23, 2018) City of Vancouver releases empty home tax revenue total


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An apartment owner who lives in Kitsilano, Jufen Wang, filed his petition on June 24 against an empty homes tax bill of $3,881, saying he provided a wealth of documentation showing he lived at the residence for more than six months.

Some of those bills were in Wang’s daughter’s name, who Wang claims has power of attorney. But the city said it could still not accept those bills because they “are addressed to a different person,” the petition reads.

Homeowner Sau Po Wong, who lives at a house in the upscale Shaughnessy neighbourhood, claims in a June 28 filing he was one of the owners subjected to the city’s audit after declaring the home as his primary residence.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver reports drop in empty homes

But during that audit he mistakenly submitted utility bills and other documentation from 2018, instead of 2017. He was out of town when the city informed him his audit was denied and would have to pay an additional tax bill of $128,310.

The developer, Pure West Financial Holdings Group Inc., filed a petition on May 28 saying the city was wrong to levy the tax against a home slated for demolition to make way for its 134-unit building on Cambie Street, The Condessa.

READ MORE: Vancouver collects $21M from empty homes tax, expects $38M total for first year

The B.C. developer claims the city charged the tax because it didn’t issue the necessary building permits before July 1, 2017, disqualifying it from an exemption.

But Pure West argues the exemption guidelines didn’t list July 1, 2017 as a deadline, nor does it provide any date for when building permits must be issued.

The property had an assessed value of $28,923,000 in 2017, meaning it would have been levied an empty homes tax of $289,000.

READ MORE: New York nearly got a version of Vancouver’s empty homes tax — before the real estate industry killed it

The city responded to Pure West’s petition on June 18, arguing its vacancy tax review panel has already made a final decision that the city was correct in its actions.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The city would not comment on any of the cases mentioned above as the matters are before the courts.

The city has confirmed it is facing a fourth lawsuit over the empty homes tax. Global News has been unable to obtain that document.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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