Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Responses to my Vancouver Sun op-ed on so-called Empty Home Tax

I have received many positive responses to my op-ed on what most reasonable people consider the unfair and somewhat incomprehensible aspects of Vancouver's Vacant Home Tax as it relates to those who keep a second home in Vancouver that is not vacant, investment property. Here are excerpts from just a few. (In some cases names and places have been changed to protect anonymity.)

I do hope the senior city officials and politicians who supported this tax will reconsider at least this aspect of the tax.

Let's start with this exchange between two friends on Facebook:
 
PB Well written. The city has imposed nothing more than a new head tax. It's a penalty and as you said, will do absolutely nothing to add more units into the rental market.

DF It's a dumb and likely ineffective tax for sure but the whole point is to force more units on to the market. I know a lot of my friends in Vancouver would be pretty happy penalizing those with occasionally used second homes, unfair or not. So I'm not sure they would change their mind given they can't afford to own even one property.

PB I think most agree that in all probability very few (if any) homes/condos will end up as rental properties. Laws (especially tax laws) should never be based on jealousy. Do we not realize what type of slippery slope this is.
 
Some other comments on the Vancouver Sun website and received by email.
  VG I work as a pilot and am away from home due to work more than 6 months of the year. I can't rent out my place short term legally to cover the days I am away, and if I did 30 month minimum I am unable to have a home when I am off of work. Anyone who works as flight crew is in the exact same position. Short term is the only thing that works for me and I am happy to do it. This rule hasn't been thought through and the 90 day limit the city of Vancouver is proposing to fill this isn't enough to cover this loop hole in empty homes.
 
IE I know people that own second homes in Coal Harbor ..Even if they could be rented, they would need to be rented for a min $10,000+.. to cover monthly expenses, how many people can afford those kinds of rent?

PB Thank you to the author for raising this point.  This unfair tax will not increase the rental stock because as is pointed out, many of these homes are not empty year round. How does it help a local Vancouverite if some condo in Coal Harbour gets rented out for 30 days at a time, not necessarily consecutively?

This is just politicians trying to appear to be doing something, which ultimately won't work.

From MM:

Greetings! - it has been some time since I last touched bases with you but we do follow you through various media channels especially with your commentary on the Vacant Home Tax being implemented by the City of Vancouver. We are caught in the web and dilemma.  We own a condo in FalseCreek and have done so for the last 12 years - a carryover from when my wife worked in Vancouver for a couple of years.  Our condo is not really vacate - we use it about every 6-8 weeks as well members of our family stay there on occasion as have a grandchild in Vancouver.  We now have received notice of the need to declare our position with the condo.  It is not our primary residence and we do not rent out what we treasure as a very special place that we worked hard to purchase and now maintain as a contributing resident of the province.  We find the imposition of this tax quite repulsive and do not want to sell the condo to avoid paying the tax - as one of our friends who lives in Nelson has done.

Would you have any advice or guidance on how we could best proceed to protect our asset in Vancouver and not be subject to the taxation contemplated.  
 
From DW
Hello Michael
I read your article in today's Sun and wanted to thank you for pointing out exactly the issues I have with the empty home tax.

I am a retired lawyer, who has recently moved to Kelowna after living my entire life in Vancouver. Although my wife and I now have our principal residence in Kelowna, we keep a one bedroom condo in Vancouver for frequent visits to the city to see family, friends, colleagues and our doctors.

Earlier this month I obtained a copy of the Vacancy Tax Bylaw. Upon review I noted that the wording was flawed. The scheme provides for tax on "vacant" property. Under section 2.3 " vacant" property includes property that "has been unoccupied for more than 180 days". "Unoccupied" property is defined in section 2.2.  By definition it is either (a) a residential property that "is not the principal residence of an occupier", OR (b) residential property that is "not occupied by a tenant or subtenant for a term of at least 30 consecutive days". Subsections (a) and (b) are disjunctive, meaning a property that is not a principal residence is by definition "unoccupied" and subject to the tax whether it is rented out or not.

My sense is that this bylaw will fall flat. But even if I am wrong, I believe I have options to avoid it. For those reasons I have concluded that my interests are best served if I keep a low profile. Nevertheless, I would be interested in any thoughts you might have on overturning the bylaw.
 
From SR

Michael
These guys at City Hall have lost their marbles. If their intentions were Honorable maybe some consideration could be given . But as in the 15% foreigners tax, the numbers do not add up. With the slow down in buying , the buyers tax revenues will be substantially lower this year and there will be a void to fill.
 
I am not sure what they are on to and how they will define the proposed empty home and for that matter police it. Most of the properties that they are attacking will be at the high end as you noted and renting them (if possible) will do little to help the middle and low ends that need homes. If an owner is concerned at the situation and decides to sell , who sets the price (other than the market) and in what time is he required to complete. Will he be fined for an empty house while on the market?

A lot of people are like me. They have lived some 25-40 years in the same property , have paid off any mortgages they may have had and look to retirement with possible a second residence in the sun (this year badly needed). Some years they may not be 180 days in their homes but spend time at least time monthly to keep in contact with city, bills and friends. Makes it difficult to rent if you or some of your family are spending time almost every month in this residence.

By the way what is the definition of a principal residence by city standards?

How is the City going to police ?. Turn neighbours onto neighbours ,  hire a special policing staff at additional cost ?Might end up like commuters in San Fran who opted to take the high speed lane by using blow up mannequins. Maybe people will leave lights on with a couple of these types sitting by the window.

The solution to housing affordability in Vancouver is to speed up the permit stages and encourage rental through bonusing. Also, we should not just focus on Vancouver.  We should have a more defined regional plan for development tied to transit.

Why should people who have been good citizens and who have based their retirement strategies on a reasonable amount of travel etc be penalized. If taxes are low as discussed ,maybe that is the answer along with focus on new construction . If not, people away from their Vancouver residence over 180 days will probably stay more at home ,thus taking supposed product away from the city inventory. 
 
What will have been achieved except adding insult to such people and you can guess who they will vote for. This is all about politics and therefore it's time for a change at City Hall. That's my RANT for the moment. Best regards Sid.
 

I welcome further comments.

Opinion: Vancouver's 'empty homes tax' anything but, it's neither reasonable nor fair Vancouver Sun April 21, 2017



     “Do you own an empty or occasionally used home in Vancouver?” This is the question posed by a recent City of Vancouver mail-out to hundreds of thousands of residents. It added: “If your property is not a principal residence, eligible for an exemption, or rented out for at least six months, it will be subject to the Empty Homes Tax.”
    While many applauded the mayor and city councillors who voted in favour of this tax in the hope it would bring thousands of rental units to the market as promised, many others were not clapping. They included those who questioned the appropriateness and likely effectiveness of the tax, and thousands of homeowners whose principal residence is outside of Vancouver and who, for a variety of reasons, maintain a second home in the city.
     Some are well-to-do Americans or Albertans living in Coal Harbour. However, many others are British Columbia residents requiring a Vancouver foothold to visit children and grandchildren, carry on business, come for health reasons or countless other scenarios.
     These are not empty homes. They are furnished and lived in seasonally or throughout the year. These homeowners cannot rent their homes when they are not here due to various practical considerations and, in many cases, strata bylaws. Moreover, there are other tax considerations.
In many instances, these property owners contribute considerably to the local economy. They pay annual property taxes even though they do not send their children to our schools or place significant demands on other municipal services.
     Now they must pay tens of thousands of dollars of additional taxes or face a $10,000 a day fine.
Related
     I realize many Vancouverites will have little sympathy for these people. After all, why cry a river for someone who owns two homes when so many Vancouver residents can’t even afford to own or rent one?
     Because this tax is neither reasonable nor fair.
     To better understand why it is unfair, imagine if the Resort Municipality of Whistler or the Gulf Islands Trust suddenly announced that everyone who owns a second home within their jurisdiction that is occupied less than 180 days a year must now rent it out for more than 180 days, with a minimum period of 30 days, or pay thousands of dollars of additional taxes annually.
     Moreover, if they do rent it out on these terms, they may have to pay substantial capital gains taxes to the federal government, calculated on the initial price paid for the property, since it is no longer a second home, but an investment property.
    Troubled by this aspect of the bylaw, I contacted a city councillor who voted in favour of it to ask why the city wanted to penalize those who keep second homes in Vancouver that are not going to be rented out. He offered this response:
     “The goal is to move otherwise empty homes into the rental market. The issue you point to is one that was well discussed in the consultation and before council. I agree it is a difficult one, but the staff recommendation is to maintain a very clear distinction and there is support for that direction. We’ll have another debate about this, I am sure, when we get the final report. These measures are driven by the extraordinary problems we see in the housing market, including the virtual disappearance of the vacancy rate for rental.”
     In case it is not clear to this city councillor, staff and other members of council, this is not a tax on “empty homes.” It appears to be a penalty on the rich or others fortunate enough to have more than one home. It will not create more affordable rental housing in the city. 
     I therefore urge city council to amend Vacancy Tax By-Law No 11674 so it will not penalize owners of legitimate second homes that are fully furnished, occupied and not likely to be rented.
I also urge others to speak out against this unfair tax before the city starts taxing your empty basement suite or unused bedrooms.
Michael Geller is an architect, president of The Geller Group and adjunct professor at the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development.
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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Responses to my parking meter column in Vancouver Courier

Since writing my Vancouver Courier column about my trials and tribulations with a City of Vancouver parking meter, I have received a number of responses from readers wanting to share their own experiences, as well as one who had some sage advice for me. Here's just some of what I heard:

Thanks for your courier opinion piece.
One things that irks me regularly is meter parking out at UBC. I go out there every other month or so to buy printer toner at Staples.
The meter requires 25 cents per 5 minutes. When you add another quarter it adds up to 9 minutes and another quarter gets you 13 minutes. They rip you off by one minute for every extra quarter!


Here mare some others.


Write about the parking meter bandit of Ash St. I've seen the same individual farming the meters there while drivers get ticket after ticket. He jams the meter, waits for people to put coins in thinking they've paid, then comes and collects the money for himself. I've reported this to police, seen him get arrested, and then he was back the next day on his bike doing the exact same thing. I wonder how many tickets drivers have had there because of this guy and the inability of police and the city to do anything about it. Data shows this is happening in an area where bylaw officers are also writing the most tickets. 8th and Ash.


Re your Courier column on April 13, I found yesterday that the parking meters in the 10 & Sasamat area had all been changed to indicate $1 for an hour.  Previously they indicated partial hour rates:  10 cents for 6 minutes, 25 cents for 15 minutes.  So I put in 25 cents and sure enough, got 15 minutes; the partial/hour rates were still in effect.  

I tried the same thing at a parking meter on West Boulevard where the posted rate was $2 for an hour.  I put in $1 and got 40 minutes.  Admitted it wasn’t half of the posted rate, which it should have been, but at least I didn’t have to pay the full shot.  So if one only wants a short-term stay, you can in fact pay less than the posted rate.  A lot of people, like me, will assume that you cannot pay less than the posted rate. 

Also, I have a beef with the City about parking meters which are Pay-By-Phone.  For the large number of us who don’t have this facility, these parking slots are unavailable even though vacant.  I am going to write to the City  and suggest that all meters should still accept coins (lotsa luck). Grrrr.

I encountered a malfunctioning pay-by-phone spot, and the city cancelled the ticket! The short version of the story is that pay-by-phone hadn't been updated to resume allowing parking after construction on the street had been completed, and so the app refused to allow my parking/payment. I took a screen capture of the error and after I'd gotten the ticket I called the city, e-mailed them the screen capture, they verified the error with pay-by-phone, and the ticket was canceled. A lot of steps, but worth it.

I carry a sledge hammer and my camera phone. If the meter doesn't actually work then it should look like it doesn't work.

And finally this one:

Hello Mr. Geller, I enjoy your contributions to the Courier and always agree with your expressed opinions. However....

Here comes the however.
If one can afford to purchase a car, maintain it and  licence it then one can afford to pay for parkingParking should be considered part of the car owning responsibility package.
Driving around around trying to find a free spot is irresponsible.  That behaviour contributes to air pollution, global warming and traffic congestion.
Pay for the parking and be happy you are able to do so.
There are more important battles to be fought.


I know she's right. But as I said at the beginning of my column, I am very irrational when it comes to parking. And I know I'm not alone!

Parking meters nickel and dime Vancouver Opinion Vancouver Courier April 13, 2017

     I'm the first to admit it. I become very irrational when it comes to paid parking.
I will drive around a block multiple times in the hope of finding a free parking spot before paying.
If I must park at a meter, I seek out one with a flashing green light, meaning there’s still some time left.
     Knowing this, you might appreciate why I became quite perturbed at 6:05 p.m. on March 30th when I discovered a City of Vancouver parking meter on West 4th Avenue that didn’t know the time.
     Why is it important that a parking meter knows the time? Because an increasing number of meters around Vancouver now charge different rates for different times of day or week. This meter charged $3 per hour before 6 p.m. and $2 per hour after 6.
     Before I left my car for a dinner engagement, I decided to listen to the 6 p.m. CBC news. After a few minutes, I paid to park.
      Normally, I use the Pay-by-Phone app. However, since I had many coins in my pocket I inserted $2, only to discover this got me 40 minutes, not 60 minutes as advertised. I was upset.
I was about to add another $2 but decided instead to photograph the parking meter error and tweet it out with the caption “this meter does not know how to tell the time.” 
      I told my dinner guest about my frustration with a parking meter, adding that if I got a ticket I would contest it. I got a ticket.
      This prompted a Facebook post later that evening describing the incident and seeking advice on whether to contest the ticket. Most of my Facebook friends urged me to fight it.
     CL wrote: “Yes — contest it. I've seen (parking attendants) standing next to meters waiting for them to hit "0" as the car owner is walking back towards the car...and they then race to give a ticket just as the owner arrives. They are ruthless. This is no longer the nice, kind city that it used to be.”
     CR wrote: “How about broken meters? When one swallowed my tooney and gave me nothing in return, I called and was told “that's why you should use your phone app"! Hmm. Double paid. Not good.”
    DC had extensive, thoughtful comments, including: “Parking law is, in my experience, profoundly perverse….the offense is not failing to pay, it’s being parked while the meter is expired. Thus, if the meter is broken or functioning improperly, you are still guilty if it shows expired while you’re parked there.”
     OJ wrote: “If you can, take one for the team! It's a pain ... but these and other meter problems never get solved because we don't have the time!”
     A former city finance official suggested the following: “Just phone 311 and tell them you want to talk to parking enforcement about the ticket. I bet they forgive it.”
     I took his advice and spoke to a considerate individual who took down all the details and promised to have someone check the meter and get back to me in writing. She subsequently phoned with bad news. I had to pay.
     The meter was determined to be in working order. When I asked to see a copy of the report to determine whether they had checked the clock, I was told I would have to file a Freedom of Information [FOI] request.
     Like most Vancouver residents, I do not want to take even more time to contest this ticket. Furthermore, if you read the fine print on the back of the ticket, if the dispute is unsuccessful, instead of a $42 fine you must pay the non-discounted penalty plus a $25 fee. That’s $95.
     As this experience demonstrates, parking meters are not infallible. As more parking meter rates are based on time of day and week, I hope the city ensures that other parkers are treated more equitably.
     In the meantime, if you encounter a meter that can’t tell the time or is jammed, just phone 311. I will too.
Have you had an experience with a Vancouver parking meter that should be told? If so, write to me and I’ll share the best in a future column.

geller@sfu.ca
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/parking-meters-nickel-and-dime-vancouver-1.14844265#sthash.qPGz1OEr.dpuf
I'm the first to admit it. I become very irrational when it comes to paid parking.
I will drive around a block multiple times in the hope of finding a free parking spot before paying.
If I must park at a meter, I seek out one with a flashing green light, meaning there’s still some time left.
Knowing this, you might appreciate why I became quite perturbed at 6:05 p.m. on March 30th when I discovered a City of Vancouver parking meter on West 4th Avenue that didn’t know the time.
Why is it important that a parking meter knows the time? Because an increasing number of meters around Vancouver now charge different rates for different times of day or week.
This meter charged $3 per hour before 6 p.m. and $2 per hour after 6.
Before I left my car for a dinner engagement, I decided to listen to the 6 p.m. CBC news. After a few minutes, I paid to park.
Normally, I use the Pay-by-Phone app. However, since I had many coins in my pocket I inserted $2, only to discover this got me 40 minutes, not 60 minutes as advertised. I was upset.
I was about to add another $2 but decided instead to photograph the parking meter error and tweet it out with the caption “this meter does not know how to tell the time.”
I told my dinner guest about my frustration with a parking meter, adding that if I got a ticket I would contest it. I got a ticket.
This prompted a Facebook post later that evening describing the incident and seeking advice on whether to contest the ticket. Most of my Facebook friends urged me to fight it.
CL wrote: “Yes — contest it. I've seen (parking attendants) standing next to meters waiting for them to hit "0" as the car owner is walking back towards the car...and they then race to give a ticket just as the owner arrives. They are ruthless. This is no longer the nice, kind city that it used to be.”
CR wrote: “How about broken meters? When one swallowed my tooney and gave me nothing in return, I called and was told “that's why you should use your phone app"! Hmm. Double paid. Not good.”
DC had extensive, thoughtful comments, including: “Parking law is, in my experience, profoundly perverse….the offense is not failing to pay, it’s being parked while the meter is expired. Thus, if the meter is broken or functioning improperly, you are still guilty if it shows expired while you’re parked there.”
OJ wrote: “If you can, take one for the team! It's a pain ... but these and other meter problems never get solved because we don't have the time!”
A former city finance official suggested the following: “Just phone 311 and tell them you want to talk to parking enforcement about the ticket. I bet they forgive it.”
I took his advice and spoke to a considerate individual who took down all the details and promised to have someone check the meter and get back to me in writing. She subsequently phoned with bad news. I had to pay.
The meter was determined to be in working order. When I asked to see a copy of the report to determine whether they had checked the clock, I was told I would have to file a Freedom of Information [FOI] request.
Like most Vancouver residents, I do not want to take even more time to contest this ticket. Furthermore, if you read the fine print on the back of the ticket, if the dispute is unsuccessful, instead of a $42 fine you must pay the non-discounted penalty plus a $25 fee. That’s $95.
As this experience demonstrates, parking meters are not infallible. As more parking meter rates are based on time of day and week, I hope the city ensures that other parkers are treated more equitably.
In the meantime, if you encounter a meter that can’t tell the time or is jammed, just phone 311. I will too.
Have you had an experience with a Vancouver parking meter that should be told? If so, write to me and I’ll share the best in a future column.
geller@sfu.ca
@michaelgeller
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/parking-meters-nickel-and-dime-vancouver-1.14844265#sthash.qPGz1OEr.dpuf