Here’s what you need to know about the vacant unit tax letter from the city of Ottawa

A letter from the city of Ottawa arrived in tens of thousands of mailboxes this week, asking homeowners to declare whether any of their properties are vacant.

It is all part of the new city of Ottawa’s vacant unit tax, designed to discourage homeowners with multiple properties from leaving them vacant.

“We have thousands of units across the city that are vacant, that could be used for housing,” Coun. Jeff Leiper tells CTV News Ottawa.

“We need those houses to be in the city’s rental stock, we need people to be able to live in those house. The city of Ottawa has declared a housing crisis – we know that we need more supply.”

Ottawa city council voted in March to impose a 1 per cent tax on vacant units in the city starting in 2023. Property owners will be required to submit annual declarations indicating the occupancy status of every home they own. Any property that has been vacant for more than 184 days in each calendar year will be taxed an extra 1 per cent.

Declarations must be filed between January and March 16, 2023. Property owners must provide some basic information on the occupancy of their property, including if it is their principal residence.

“I think it’s putting the burden on homeowners,” says Hintonburg resident Jeanna Chan, who lives next door to a vacant home. “I do see a value in a vacant unit tax for sure. I mean, as you can see, just on our block alone we’ve got four vacant houses.”

Cheryl Parrott, who is chair of the security committee with the Hintonburg Community Association, has lived in Hintonburg for 42 years, where there are several vacant homes.

“And some of these buildings have been empty and boarded for years as development slowly progresses, or the time becomes right for development.”

In 2020, Parrott and the Hintonburg Community Association brought forward the idea of a vacancy tax to council, when the Tom Brown Arena opened as a Respite Centre.

“It just struck us as neighbours all the empty boarded up buildings that we have within one block of Tom Brown Arena – where you’ve got homeless people going, and some of these buildings have been empty and boarded for years.”

There are exceptions to ensure homes are not taxed unfairly. The vacant unit tax does not apply to primary residences. Other exemptions include:

  • Death of a registered owner
  • Property owner was in a hospital or long-term care facility
  • Arm’s length sale of the property
  • Specific court orders prohibiting occupancy, sale, or rental of the property
  • Extended renovations or construction
  • Was used as a cottage rental with a valid permit for at least 100 days

City staff estimate 330,000 residential property owners would need to declare their vacancy status annually.

Declaration letters and emails will be sent out with information on how to file the required occupancy status declaration for the 2022 calendar year.

The city says vacant unit tax revenues will help fund affordable housing initiatives. City staff estimate the tax could raise approximately $25 million over five years. The tax is also meant to encourage occupancy in empty buildings to increase available housing stock.

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