On Wednesday, June 9th, City Council directed staff to develop a tax regime for a vacant unit tax program to be implemented in 2022, with billing to start in 2023. The tax would help increase Ottawa’s housing supply by encouraging homeowners to occupy or rent their properties. The revenue generated would be used to support affordable housing programs. Staff will bring forward a report for the tax regime that would see owners of residential properties left vacant more than half the year pay a tax of about one per cent of the property’s value as part of their final property tax bill. The tax would not apply to an owner’s principal residence.
Many residents have expressed concern about vacant houses falling apart in their neighbourhoods. Not only are they unsightly but they are unused housing space at a time when finding a home is difficult. It is frustrating to know that so many people need homes while many residences are left vacant. Currently there are no bylaws to prevent leaving a house vacant other than bylaw complaints related to unkept property. This is why the city is implementing a Vacant Unit Tax.
In order to write bylaws to deal with this tax, city staff investigated what other cities are doing about vacant units. The best model that was found was Vancouver which has had a bylaw for a few years. The tax has been effective, however the major drawback of the tax is that ALL residents who own residential units must fill out a form to state if they have been occupied over the past year. This could be a concern if this administrative process is not handled well. If residents have to fill out a form saying their home is indeed inhabited, then the onus is on every resident to do this or they may find themselves paying a vacant unit tax because they did not fill it in. City staff are aware of this dilemma and have been asked to ensure that no one is punished for inadvertently not filling out a form. I wanted residents to know this ahead of time. We want a positive bylaw in place to reduce the number of vacant units that will not be an excessive or complicated burden to residents.
We want to put a stop to vacant houses being left to fall apart in our communities. I asked the city to make sure we have an efficient process to tax those who leave homes empty. I have included a link to the As we heard it document.