The BC Speculation & Vacancy Tax
BACKGROUNDER AND CONSIDERATIONS
FOR SUNSHINE COAST LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Introduced in 2018, the speculation and vacancy tax is an annual tax paid by some owners of residential properties in designated taxable regions of B.C.
The tax is designed to discourage housing speculation and people from leaving homes vacant in B.C.’s major urban centres.
It is different from the Vancouver Empty Homes Tax.
The tax is based on:
- How property owners use their residential property
- The property owner’s residency status
- Where property owners earn and report their income
For the past three years, 99 percent of BC residents have been exempt from the tax.
- Capital Regional District
- Metro Vancouver Regional District (except for Bowen Island, Lions Bay and Electoral Area A)
- City of Abbotsford
- District of Mission
- City of Chilliwack
- City of Kelowna
- City of West Kelowna
- City of Nanaimo
- District of Lantzville
How It Works:
The tax rate is calculated based on the property’s assessed value:
- 2% for foreign owners and satellite families
- 0.5% for Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada who are not members of a satellite family
0.5% of a property assessed at $1 million = $5,000
A satellite family (or untaxed worldwide earner) is an individual whose income not taxed in Canada is greater than their income taxed in Canada. Of note, an individual’s income is combined with their spouse’s income for the purposes of this calculation.
- Principal residences lived in by owners for at least 6 months per year.
- Islands that are accessible only by air or water except for Vancouver Island.
- Residential properties owned by:
- An Indigenous Nation
- Municipalities, regional districts, governments and other public bodies
- Registered charities
- Housing co-ops
- Certain not-for-profit organization
- Reserve lands, treaty lands and lands of self-governing Indigenous Nations.
- Properties that are bought and sold in the same year.
- Properties that are rented out to tenants for at least 6 months per year or occupied by non-arms length tenants (friends and family). Short term rentals of less than one month do not count towards the calculation of a six-month total.
- For Foreign owners: the non-arm’s length tenant (friend or family) must be:
- a Canadian citizen or permanent resident,
- a resident of BC for income tax purposes at the end of the last day of the year,
- not be a member of a satellite family, and
- have a B.C. income for the calendar year that is equal to or greater than three times the annual fair market rent for the entire residential property.
Opposition to SVT
- When introduced in 2018, most opposition was around application of SVT to BC residents rather than only to out-of-province property owners.
- Opposition has lessened; not significant issue in the 2020 BC election.
- Kelowna and West Kelowna have consistently requested to opt out due to disproportionate impact on Canadian recreational/second-home owners vs. property speculators (60% of the tax collected in Kelowna come from Canadians, vs. 12% coming from Canadians province-wide).
- Kelowna claims the tax resulted in only a “negligible” 0.7% increase in rental supply, and it is unclear where the $7 million raised from their area since 2018 has been re-invested.
- West Kelowna claims would-be buyers are going to outlying communities due to the tax.
Outcomes of SVT
The B.C. Ministry of Finance, in a report to Mayors, points to Canada Mortgage Housing Corp. figures that shows the tax “helped” add 18,000 units to the long-term rental market in Greater Vancouver in 2019 and 2020 as investors repurposed their properties toward long-term rental and added newly completed units to the market.
The Speculation and Vacancy Tax has generated approx. $80 million in revenue each year. This revenue is being used to help fund affordable housing projects.
SVT Annual Mayors Consultation Technical Briefing 2020
The Vancouver Empty Homes Tax
- Introduced in 2017 to help return empty and under-utilized properties to the market as long-term rental homes.
- Only available to City of Vancouver under the Vancouver Charter, as approved by the Province.
- Properties deemed or declared empty in the reference year are subject to a tax of 3% of the property’s assessed value. This is slated to increase to 5% next year, so $50,000 on an assessment on $1 million.
- The tax is very similar to the BC Speculation and Vacancy Tax, and properties in Vancouver that are not exempt have to pay both taxes.
Foreign Buyers Tax
- Came into effect in 2016 as an additional one-time 15% “property transfer” tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver Regional District only.
- Expanded in 2018 to 20% within Metro Vancouver, Capital, Fraser Valley, Nanaimo and Central Okanagan Regional Districts (for a regional area slightly larger than the SVT, via the two latter RDs: Parksville, for example, is subject to this tax but not to the SVT.)
- 20% of $1,000,000 = $200,000
- At least one neighbouring municipality, the District of Squamish, expressly requested in 2018 that the Foreign Buyers Tax be applied to its jurisdiction, but not the SVT.
- Will be less relevant with federal 2-year ban on foreign property buying (though there appears to be more exemptions in the federal ban than for the tax).
Sunshine Coast Considerations
In 2021, 83.1% of private dwellings were occupied. This varied by region, with Area A having the lowest occupancy rate at 62.3% and the Town of Gibsons with the highest rate at 91.9%.
Sunshine Coast-wide, percentage of private dwellings occupied
Percentage of private dwellings occupied in Area A
Percentage of private dwellings occupied in the Town of Gibsons
- For the Province to expand to the Sunshine Coast would require broad policy shift that SVT is no longer only for “major urban centres”. It would likely require significant province-wide consultation than simply just adding one area by request.
- We need to consider what kind of home on the Sunshine Coast is typically “unoccupied” year-round? Is it more likely to be the cottage on Sakinaw Lake or higher-end waterfront property, than the typical “empty condo” of Vancouver.
- Is the primary goal an incentive to get these vacation homes sold or rented to full-time residents, or only to generate tax revenue to the Province for affordable housing? BC Government’s position has been “tax is not for revenue but to maximize rental stock available” (Nanaimo News Bulletin).
Other Tax Options:
Foreign Buyers Tax: Applying the Foreign Buyers Tax to the Sunshine Coast is not timely during the federal ban on foreign purchases.
Municipal Empty Homes Tax: This would involve advocacy for all BC local governments to have the option of adding “empty homes tax.” In 2019 UBCM passed a resolution from the City of White Rock to give all local governments this authority, and the Province replied in 2020 that it would monitor the Vancouver experience but that it “is not currently considering amendments enabling other local governments to tax vacant properties.”