Estate sues City of Vancouver over delays in processing empty-home tax

VANCOUVER — The estate of a Vancouver man is suing the city over what it considers unreasonable delays in processing an application for an exemption to the city’s empty-home tax.

Charles James Hyland, the owner of 3498 East 48th Ave., was living in the home until he was admitted to a long-term care facility in Burnaby in September 2016. He lived at the care facility at St. Michael’s Centre until he died on March 11, 2018.

In February 2018, while he was in the care facility, his friend Barbara Smith, the executrix of his estate, filed an empty homes tax declaration for the year 2017. Smith claimed an exemption from the tax for the calendar year of 2017 because Hyland was in the care facility for the entire year.

An exemption to the tax includes: Your property was unoccupied for more than six months because you or your tenant were residing in a hospital, long-term or supportive care facility and had previously been used as a principal residence or occupying it for residential purposes as a tenant, the city’s website says.

In the lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Smith says she received an inquiry from the city in September 2018 and completed a questionnaire provided by the city, as well as supporting documents for the exemption application.

She says she repeatedly called the city in October to confirm the property was exempt from the tax and was told that a tax officer would provide a response in six-to-eight weeks, but has not yet received a response.

Smith sold the property in November for $1,688,000, with the net-sale proceeds being received in trust after completion. As a condition of completion, the purchaser’s notary required that $19,103 be retained in trust pending receipt of the City of Vancouver’s decision on the exemption application.

“The plaintiff wishes to proceed with the distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries, however the plaintiff is unable to do so until the holdback in the amount of $19,103 is released from trust as the holdback money is itself a part of the estate and should be paid to the beneficiaries,” says the suit. “The proceeds of the estate are ready to be distributed to the beneficiaries, however the same cannot be done until the city provides its decision with respect to the 2017 empty homes tax declaration.

“The defendant has unreasonably delayed in confirming that the property is not subject to the empty homes tax declaration to the prejudice of the executor and the beneficiaries of the state.”

Smith says that inquiries from her and her lawyer to the city have been ignored. She’s seeking a court order that the city confirm the property is exempt from the tax.

In an email, the city said it had not been served with any lawsuits regarding the tax.

The tax, one per cent of a property’s assessed taxable value, is aimed at returning empty or underused properties for use as long-term rental homes.

Other exemptions to the empty home tax include:

• Your principal residence was outside of Greater Vancouver, but you occupied your property for residential purposes for at least six months because you’re employed full-time in Greater Vancouver.

• Property was unoccupied for more than six months because the last registered owner is dead and a grant of probate or administration is pending.

• Property was unoccupied for more than six months due to redevelopment of major renovation.

There are several others.