Sunday, March 11, 2018

Vancouver company offers Empty Homes Tax workaround



A Vancouver company is trying to grow its business by offering a unique workaround for homeowners who don’t want to pay the city's Empty Homes Tax on their unoccupied properties.

Asheya Accommodations says it will enter into long-term tenancy agreements with the owners of vacant properties then sublet the homes to renters.

"Depending on the property, we'll either sublet it to another tenant who's going to actually occupy it," said owner and operator Asheya Kassner. "If it's a larger property with multiple rooms, we might provide individual furnished rooms for people who are looking at more of a collective housing or shared housing—more affordable option."

By making sure a home is tenanted at least 180 days a year, the owner no longer has to pay the one-per-cent vacancy tax. Asheya also makes sure the owner is complying with the city's short-term rental regulations by subletting the space for no less than 30 days at a time.

The company also helps facilitate scheduling for owners who want to live in their homes for part of the year by finding students, newcomers to Vancouver and others to sublet the property in the interim.

Kassner called the service a "win-win-win," saying it simultaneously helps owners avoid the hefty tax, makes it easier for renters to find accommodations and helps the city in its efforts to increase Vancouver's rental housing supply.

"There's a housing crisis in Vancouver and the Empty Homes Tax is targeted at people with empty properties as it should be and we're trying to help the City of Vancouver and people who are looking for housing and homeowners," she said.

Kassner said her company has done its research and that what it's doing is "100 per cent allowed."

"We've done some pretty thorough research, so (we're) pretty confident that everything we're offering is totally within the bounds of how the system is set up and how it's supposed to work," she said.

Real estate lawyer Richard Bell of Bell Alliance said that all hinges on how the City of Vancouver defines a tenant.

"The city could say 'that’s very nice, but we’re going to deem that to be a vacant home.' That would put the onus on the owner of property to challenge them," he said.

In a statement to CTV News the city confirmed Asheya is not breaking any rules.

"Residential property owners can enter into lease agreements with third-party property management companies to help them better manage their properties and ensure they comply with the Vacancy Tax By-law," said spokesperson Tara Bodjak.

"In these circumstances, the company would be considered the tenant and the people who occupy the property would be the subtenants."

But critics of the Empty Homes Tax say the very need for this kind of service highlights the problems with the policy.

"I'm not surprised that this kind of opportunity is arising for a company to provide a service to residents in the city who are looking to solve the problem that we've created for them which is saying that we're adding tax to your home," said Coun. George Affleck of the Non-Partisan Association.

"That's not the kind of policy we should be developing as a city. We should be focusing on building more homes that are affordable and that people can live in. That should be our focus and I feel like this policy doesn't do that."

The owners of vacant or underutilized homes in Vancouver can face a one-per-cent tax on the property's 2017 assessed value.

The policy is part of a plan to add desperately-need rental housing units to a city with sky-rocketing housing prices and rock-bottom vacancy rates.

A city-wide survey aimed at determining the number of empty homes in Vancouver recently found that nearly 8,500 residential properties are unoccupied or underused.

According to the 2016 Census, however, that number is closer to 25,000.

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