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Allow commercial, industrial vacant property tax, UBCM urges

Tax needed to encourage building and business growth, New Westminster councillor says.
New Westminster Coun. Ruby Campbell.

B.C.’s provincial government should allow municipalities to tax vacant properties in order to encourage development, Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) delegates voted Sept. 21.

A resolution put forward by New Westminster said the province has already adopted vacancy taxes on vacant residential properties as one tool to assure land speculation does not result in property standing empty to the detriment of community livability.

Further, it said, commercial property values are inflating provincewide, and increasingly face investment speculation resulting in similar underutilization of commercial property in many B.C. municipalities.

The resolution urged Victoria to allow such taxation measures for local governments.

New Westminster Coun. Ruby Campbell told the annual convention in Vancouver that empty property impacts business communities as well as neighbourhoods and causes issues around transit hubs such as SkyTrain.

She said some properties have sat vacant for years.

“We need these options so we can encourage building on empty lots,” Campbell said.

Residential tax

The B.C. government in December said it was expanding its speculation and vacancy tax to smaller municipalities, including North Cowichan, Duncan, Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan, Lions Bay and Squamish.

B.C. Minister of Finance Selina Robinson announced the tax’s expansion on the back of a government-commissioned report that estimates about 20,000 condo units have been rented out as a result of the tax’s inception in 2018 in major urban centres, namely the Lower Mainland.

The speculation tax was then in effect in municipalities in the Lower Mainland and capital region, along with Nanaimo, Lantzville, Kelowna and West Kelowna.

Previous UBCM work

The resolution committee noted that the UBCM executive considered a 2019 resolution that asked for local government authority to impose a vacancy tax on both residential and commercial properties.

The executive chose to endorse that resolution with an amendment that removed the reference to commercial properties due to concerns about potential unforeseen consequences with commercial assessment without a comprehensive analysis.

Similarly, the membership endorsed a 2020 resolution on a vacancy tax for residential and commercial properties after making an amendment to remove the reference to commercial properties.

The membership endorsed a 2021 resolution requesting a review of the Community Charter to grant municipal councils authority to add a ‘vacant land’ property tax, and a 2016 resolution calling for an amendment to the Prescribed Classes of Property Regulation to allow vacant lands to be taxed at a higher tax rate and/or charged a flat tax.

The province’s response to a 2016 resolution noted that commercial and industrial properties are taxed at a higher rate than residential, and that land values are based on the potential highest and best use of the property regardless of whether or not the property is vacant.

The committee further noted that the membership has endorsed a number of resolutions that ask the province to empower local governments to make adjustments to tax rates to address vacant and derelict properties.