Tag Archives: Ottawa Vacant Unit Tax

A Primer On Canada’s Vacant Home Taxes For U.S. Citizens And Residents

Disclaimer: This post is of a general nature. I will assume that the owner of the property is an individual person. This post does NOT address situations where the property is owned by a corporation, trust or other kind of entity. Vacant property regimes are different and may include enhanced rules for situations where residential property is NOT owned by an individual (including corporations, trusts, etc.). Under NO circumstances should the information in this post be considered to be complete. It is designed to provide an overview. In many cases you will be well advised to seek professional help. (I am thinking mainly of Canada’s Underused Housing Tax and the BC “Speculation And Vacancy” taxes.)

Outline:

Part I – Introduction – The Housing Shortage Of 2023
Part II – Impacts of Canada’s Underused Housing Tax on Canadian border communities
Part III – How Vacant Home Taxes Work – The Usage Of The Property ALWAYS Matters And Can Ensure The Tax Is Avoided
Part IV – How Vacant Homes Tax Differ – The Three Categories Of Taxes
Part V – The BC “Speculation And Vacancy Tax” – Moving To Canada
Part VI – Concluding Thoughts

Part I – Introduction – The Housing Shortage Of 2023

Vacant home taxes are a new kind of tax in Canada. They are the inevitable result of a rise in housing prices, a shortage of rental housing caused by short term rentals (AirBNB and others), a rise in rents (caused by the shortage of rental housing) and a political climate that is responsive to the housing shortage. This is NOT just a problem in Canada, but also in other countries. A recent New York Times article reported on similar conditions in Portugal (which interestingly resulted in the cancellation of Portugals “Golden Visa Program”).

Canada’s Family Of Vacant Home Taxes

Various Canadian governments have created a family of Canadian Vacant Home Taxes. Vacant Home Taxes are significant levies on owners who neither occupy their property as a principal residence nor rent the property to “arms length” tenants. The only true “safe islands in an ocean of punitive taxation” are in circumstances where ALL owners occupy the property as a principal residence (except possibly the BC Speculation And Vacancy Tax) or the property is rented and occupied by an “arms length” tenant for at least six months of the year.

Vacant Home Taxes are levied by all three levels of government: Federal (Canada’s Underused Housing Tax), Provincial (BC Speculation And Vacancy Tax) and Municipal (Toronto, Vancouver, Hamilton and Ottawa, etc.). “Canadian Vacant Home Taxes” are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Property owners can be impacted by more than one tax. A U.S. resident owning a vacant home in British Columbia could be subject to each of: Canada’s Underused Housing Tax, Vancouver’s Empty Home Tax and the BC Speculation And Vacancy Tax. Each of these taxes is independently punitive. Some might argue that the combined effect of all three is confiscatory. For example a U.S. resident who owned a vacant condo in Vancouver valued at 3.3 million Canadian dollars would be subject to combined “vacant home taxes” of $264,000 CDN for the 2023 year. As the following tweet indicates:

Interesting! At the current rate of Vancouver’s vacancy tax (5%), and given BC’s vacancy tax (2%) and the federal underused housing tax (1%), the author’s condo (valued in 2017 at $3.3 million) could trigger additional annual tax of $264,000 for 2023 alone (if valued the same).

Part II – Impacts of Canada’s Underused Housing Tax on Canadian border communities

Canada’s vacant home taxes have been particularly upsetting to U.S. residents who own second homes in Canada.

In 2017 a U.S resident, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, referred to the Vancouver “Empty Home Tax” as “Canada’s Tax On Being American”.

The author, claiming that the tax is aimed at “foreigners” writes:

A few months later, Vancouver introduced an annual “empty home tax” equal to 1% of the property’s assessed value. Since the levy is inapplicable if your Vancouver home is your principal residence, it’s obviously aimed at foreigners like us. At our condo’s current valuation, the tax will cost us almost US$33,000 a year.

She makes the further claim that the Vancouver Empty Home tax is based on nationality:

Nationality-based taxes are among the worst kinds of protectionism. The North American Free Trade Agreement expressly covers real estate owned by Americans in Canada. For that matter, Nafta covers real estate owned by Canadians in the U.S., of which there is plenty.

Although the Vancouver Empty Home Tax is NOT based on nationality (although Canada’s “Underused Housing Tax” is based on nationality), the author is correct that citizenship/nationality taxes are offensive. That said, the United States is the only major country in the world that defines “tax residency” in terms of citizenship/nationality (making the author’s claim somewhat hypocritical).

More recently, New York Congressman Brian Higgins has been particularly aggressive in objecting to the application of Canadian vacant property taxes to U.S. residents. The Canadian Government held hearings on the “Impacts of the Underused Housing Tax on Canadian border communities”. The hearings took place on June 5, 8 and 19 2023 and may be accessed here. On June 5, 2023 Congressman Higgins was a witness at the hearing. His comments referenced the application of Canada’s “Underused Housing Tax” to U.S. residents living in upstate New York. A transcript of his comments may be read here. Congressman Higgins is requesting that his constituents in New York State be exempted from the tax. His closing statement at the hearing was:

Mr. Brian Higgins:

I think you’re correct in that I understand why Canada would impose a tax on large swaths of land because of the larger problem that it creates. What I believe about that is really not relevant. That’s for you to decide. I suppose what I would ask each of you to consider is whether or not this tax, the vacant and underutilized tax, was intended to affect communities. You refer to them as rural communities that are outside of the urban areas. I refer to them as cottage communities.

Was that the intent, and if it wasn’t, is there some way that could be contemplated as it relates to revising that to exclude certain properties, like seasonal properties, that this was seemingly not intended to include?

Citizenship Taxation

Canada’s Underused Housing Tax is NOT based on “tax residency”. Rather, Canada’s Underused Housing Tax is a tax based on “citizenship” or”immigration status”. The U.S Tax code imposes income taxes based on “citizenship” and “immigration status”. Significantly, the U.S. imposes taxation on the Canadian source income of those Canadian residents who are also U.S. citizens. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that:

1. Congressman Higgins is objecting to Canada applying “citizenship taxation” on U.S. citizens living in the United States; while

2. the U.S. applies “citizenship taxation” to many Canadian citizens living in Canada.

In any case, Congressman Higgin’s complaint is about “citizenship taxation“.

Part III – How Vacant Home Taxes Work – The Usage Of The Property ALWAYS Matters And Can Ensure The Tax Is Avoided

Generally every property owner (Canada’s Underused Housing Tax is the exception) is required to report every year and answer questions about the usage of the property. These who fail to report are subject to the maximum tax. Those who do report must demonstrate that they are either NOT required to pay the tax (principal residence, rented out or some other exemption) or not subject to the maximum tax (citizenship/immigration status or tax residency status). All vacant home taxes start with a presumption that the owner must pay the full tax. The property owner bears the burden (by filing the return and providing information about the usage) or demonstrating that it (he, she or an entity) is exempt or subject to a lower tax.

“Some” ways of avoiding the tax …

Generally, if the property is rented to “arms length” tenants for at least six months of the year no vacant property tax is owing. With the exception of the BC “Speculation And Vacancy” Tax occupancy by the owner as a principal residence will result in no tax payable.

Vacant Home Taxes In Canada- Three Categories

Category 1. Based On Ownership: Targets ALL owners of the property and the tax is imposed based on the usage of the property – Targets people based on and only on being the owner of the property. The tax may be avoided based on the usage of the property (generally if used as a primary residence or if it is rented to tenants). (Municipal)

Category 2. Based On Ownership + Citizenship/Immigration status of the owner: Targets owners of the property based on the citizenship and immigration status of the owner (NOT being a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada) – The tax may be avoided based on the usage of the property (Federal – Canada’s Underused Housing Tax).

Category 3. Based On Ownership + Citizenship/Immigration status + tax residency of the owner + source of the owner’s income – (British Columbia “Speculation And Vacancy Tax”)

Generally the BC “Speculation And Vacancy Tax” operates as follows:

Step 1: Targets all owners of the targeted properties and presumes they are subject to the maximum tax (every owner is required to file a return)

Step 2: Identifies those owners who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents. (Being a Canadian citizen or permanent resident” is a necessary BUT NOT SUFFICIENT condition to being subject to a lower rate of tax or being exempt from the tax.) An individual must be a “specified Canadian citizen” or “specified Permanent Resident” or “resident of British Columbia” to have preferential treatment or an exemption from the tax. (Note that if a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident is is an “untaxed worldwide earner”, then that person cannot be a “specified Canadian citizen” or “specified permanent resident”.

Step 3: Determines whether the owner is an “untaxed worldwide earner. This is a determination based largely on the “tax residency” and income of of the owner. Generally an individual is an “untaxed worldwide earner” if more of his income (or combined income with his spouse) is NOT subject to tax in Canada than is subject to tax in Canada. (Significantly the income of both spouses is combined to determine whether the individual is an “untaxed worldwide earner”.)

Step 4: Determines whether the owner is a “specified Canadian citizen” or “specified Permanent Resident” or “resident of British Columbia” and is therefore subject to a preferential tax rate or an exemption. Note that if the individual is an “untaxed worldwide earner” he cannot meet this requirement. (Like Canada’s Underused Housing Tax the BC “Speculation And Vacancy Tax” does discriminate based on citizenship or immigration status. (Arguably, for this reason it may violate the non-discrimination provision in the Canada U.S. tax treaty.)

Significantly, the primary residence exemption is not available to an owner who is an “untaxed worldwide earner”.

Let’s examine each of the three categories in more detail …

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Help With The Canada Underused Housing Tax

Purpose

Canada’s Underused Housing Tax is a tax which is primarily based on citizenship and immigration status. Specifically, it is a tax imposed on owners of Canadian residential property who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents. It is Canada’s form of citizenship taxation. The tax will incentivize people to naturalize as Canadian citizens.

I continue to create blog posts, podcasts and videos explaining this tax (along the the Municipal Vacant Property Taxes in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and other Canadian cities). This post is to consolidate this information.

I note also that opposition to this Canadian tax is growing in the United States. For example Congressman Brian Higgins (representing people in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, etc.) is organizing U.S. residents and politicians to seek a “carve out” for U.S. citizens. I encourage Congressman Higgins to approach this from the perspective of the unfairness of citizenship-based taxation generally.

If you need help (fee based) with filing the Canadian Underused Housing Tax return you may reach out to me at:

vacanthometax at runbox dot com.

I have also created a smaller dedicated site at:

VacantHomeTax.com

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My resources to assist in the understanding of this tax include:

Blog Posts:

1. US Residents Who Own Residential Property In Canada May Be Subject To Various Vacant And Underused Property Taxes

2. NY Congressman Brian Higgins Draws Attention To The Injustice Of Citizenship Taxation By Challenging Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

3. U.S. FBAR And Form 8938 Penalties May Be A Bigger Problem For U.S. Residents Than Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

4. Canada’s Underused Housing Tax: No Good Options For U.S. Residents Who Own A Second Home In Canada

5. Help With Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

6. Like Canada’s Underused Housing Tax, the U.S. Estate Tax Often Turns On The Citizenship Of The Owner of U.S. Situs Real Estate

7. @RepBrianHiggins Begins Formal Challenge Of Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

8. A Primer On Canada’s Vacant Home Taxes For U.S. Citizens And Residents

9. Canada’s Underused Housing Tax May Violate The Non-discrimination Clause In The Tax Treaty

Podcasts:

YouTube Videos:

Social Media:

Twitter – @VacantHomeTax

Facebook Group – Canada Underused Housing Tax

Facebook Page – Canada Underused Housing Tax

Reddit – Canada Underused Housing Tax And Other Vacant Home Taxes

If you need help …

If you need help (fee based) with filing the Canadian Underused Housing Tax return you may reach out to me at:

vacanthometax at runbox dot com.

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @VacantHomeTax

Canada’s Underused Housing Tax: No Good Options For U.S. Residents Who Own A Second Home In Canada

Introduction – Responding To Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

Canada’s Underused Housing Tax is NOT a tax imposed because the “foreign owner” doesn’t spend enough time in the property. Rather Canada’s Underused Housing Tax is a tax imposed because the “foreign owner” doesn’t make the property sufficiently available to non-owners!!

This is the fourth in my series of posts about Canada’s “citizenship-based” Underused Housing Tax.

The first three post are:

1. US Residents Who Own Residential Property In Canada May Be Subject To Various Vacant And Underused Property Taxes

2. NY Congressman Brian Higgins Draws Attention To The Injustice Of Citizenship Taxation By Challenging Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

3. U.S. FBAR And Form 8938 Penalties May Be A Bigger Problem For U.S. Residents Than Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

The purpose of this post is two-fold:

First: to explain what “Canada’s Underused Housing Tax” really means for “foreign owners” of certain Canadian property:

Conclusion: It means that foreign owners who own property that is NOT in a designated recreational location and who do NOT release their property into the rental market will be forced to pay the 1% tax.

Second: to explain that owners of most Canadian residential property that is not in a designated recreational location, who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents of Canada can avoid releasing their property into the rental market ONLY if they either:

1. Pay Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

2. Sell their property in Canada

In my opinion U.S. (and other foreign residents) should be advised to simply pay the annual tax.

The Government Of Canada’s “Underused Housing Tax” is designed to force “foreign owners” of property to choose among the choices of: releasing their property into the rental market, paying the 1% tax or selling their property!

Explaining this conclusion.

This post ignores the “fringe situations” of properties that are newly purchased, uninhabitable, etc. I am focussing on the situation as it is likely to affect the majority of people. I urge people to read the actual legislation.

Final warning!!! All individual owners of residential housing in Canada who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents of Canada are required to file the Underused Housing Tax return even if the tax is not payable! The penalty for failing to file the return is $5000 CDN.

Here we go …

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US Residents Who Own Residential Property In Canada May Be Subject To Various Vacant And Underused Property Taxes

Introduction And Purpose

Many Canadian cities are experiencing the combined effects of a shortage of affordable housing and a rise in housing prices. In short housing (whether to own or to rent) has become less available and more expensive. Factors contributing to this include: Investors preferring to “rent” their investment properties on short term rental platforms rather them releasing them into the rental market, Provincial Landlord and Tenant laws which impose laws on small landlords which are perceived as unfair, increases in property values (caused by low interest rates) which have caused an imbalance between the cost of buying residential real estate and the amount it can be rented for. (It makes no sense for a person to purchase a property for one million dollars and rent it for $2000 per month.)

Canadian Cities – Clear Laws And Easy To Understand And Significant Discontent From U.S. Owners

The above tweet references a fascinating article Wall Street Journal article written in 2017 by a U.S. owner of a Vancouver, BC condominium claiming that the tax was directed at Americans. It’s a fascinating read.

A reply to the above tweet pointed out that:

Interesting! At the current rate of Vancouver’s vacancy tax (5%), and given BC’s vacancy tax (2%) and the federal underused housing tax (1%), the author’s condo (valued in 2017 at $3.3 million) could trigger additional annual tax of $264,000 for 2023 alone (if valued the same)

As the $264,000 figure demonstrates, these “Vacant Property Taxes” are serious business which can create significant tax and penalty liability. In some cases, the taxes may force people to sell their properties!

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