Tuesday, January 29, 2019

B.C. government opens exemption process for speculation tax


It will be up to homeowners to apply for exemptions, with a deadline of March 31.

VICTORIA — All homeowners in B.C.’s largest urban centres will need to apply for exemptions from the province’s new speculation tax or receive a bill, whether they are speculators or not, the government announced Tuesday.

The Ministry of Finance said letters outlining the first speculation tax fees and exemption processes will begin arriving at all homes in Greater Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna and Metro Vancouver (excluding Bowen Island and Lions Bay, but including Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack) starting this week.

It will be up to all homeowners to apply for exemptions, with a deadline of March 31. Those who don’t apply, or qualify, will be sent tax bills due to be paid by July 2. The opt-out process will become an annual event for property owners under the new speculation tax rules. People who pay mistakenly can get a rebate within six years, according to the ministry.

Finance Minister Carole James was not available for an interview, but her ministry said the exemption process “will help identify speculators and empty homes, allowing the government to crack down on speculation and make housing more affordable.”

The government’s decision to levy every property owner in major urban centres with a tax notice, and then force them to apply for exemptions, is a backwards way to implement a misguided tax, said Liberal MLA Shirley Bond.

“Just when you think a botched tax can’t get any worse, it does,” said Bond. “Now residents in communities like Nanaimo, Kelowna and Abbotsford, to name a few, have to register to be exempt from this tax or they will get a bill in the mail for a tax they shouldn’t be paying.

“It is absolutely astounding to me for an conceived tax that does not target legitimate speculators — the majority of people impacted by this tax are hard-working British Columbians. On every front, this is a mess.”

The NDP government’s speculation tax was announced in the February 2018 budget and described as a way to encourage owners of empty residences to put them onto the rental market, or sell, in areas where housing is unaffordable and rental vacancy rates are low.

Although first billed as a surcharge on out-of-province real estate speculators, it was later revealed that an estimated two-thirds of those who will pay the tax will be British Columbians.

Public blowback forced Finance Minister Carole James to exempt areas like the Gulf Islands, as well as water down the rate before the tax was passed into law in the fall.

Because the tax is retroactive, the first letters will actually be for taxes incurred in the 2018 calendar year — before the tax rules were even finalized.

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