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March 30, 2017 | What Could Go Wrong?

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.

Americans have a constitutional right to own property. Canadians? Meh. Not so much. You just have to hope for the best – that the province won’t expropriate for a road, the city won’t zone a group home next door, the conservation authority won’t prevent you from landscaping, or the mayor won’t decide you’re not home enough.

As real estate prices grow more insane in our bubble markets, politicians are hot to further abrogate private property rights – which you don’t actually have (and they know it). An empty condo, for example, that you plan to retire into next year. Or a property used for business part of the time. A secondary home in a city where you winter. Real estate you bought, paid for and shell out property taxes on. All that is now in the crosshairs in Vancouver, and may soon be in Toronto.

YVRers have been receiving these brochures in the mail – the latest news on an ugly little tax about to be slapped on thousands of unsuspecting property owners who have done nothing wrong. The tax is ginormous – 1% annually of assessed value, which is $14,700 on the average detached house, or $1,230 per month. This is on top of normal property tax of about $5,500.

The Empty House Tax, now in BC and soon in Toronto (says mayor John Tory, who used to be a conservative), doesn’t just spank foreign owners who snap up properties as long-term investments then leave them to the weeds and the mice. There actually aren’t many of those dudes. Instead, it’s intended to economically censure wealthy people as it’s now socially unacceptable to have two homes when some poor moister couple can’t afford any. There’s no evidence the EHT will increase housing stock, put more rentals on the market, or do diddly about the speculation that’s driven prices skyward. It’s just political. It’s something, when leaders have been accused of doing nothing.

How does this work?

Vancouver is the model for the Toronto tax now being crafted. A secondary family home – maybe a condo you bought for your daughter to attend school – which is not regularly occupied, or rented to a tenant for at least six months, will be taxed. To prove otherwise, an audit will require government-issued ID showing that address, or a tax return.

A secondary home, used periodically by the owner, or family members or guests which is not fully occupied for half the year, or rented out for an equal period, will be taxed. So, if you live in Toronto and spend the winter in Vancouver in a condo which is then largely vacant for seven or eight months, you pay. Even if you worked in Van for six months of the year and needed a pad – cheaper than taking a hotel – you pay the tax. Only exempt would be someone needing a place because they have a full-time job in that city.

If you own a condo which is on the rental market and you can’t find a decent tenant, after six months you will be taxed. “Therefore,” says the city, “owners are encouraged to reduce the asking rental cost until the unit is rented, as they will not be exempt from the tax on the basis of being unable to find a tenant.” Ditto for selling a property. If the housing market slows (as in YVR now) and you cannot find a buyer willing to pay your price – after 180 days, it will be taxed.

Is this fair? Just? Equitable? What purpose is served through the arbitrary imposition of an extra new levy on people, simply because they own property?

Beats me. But John Tory likes it. “I am open to exploring whether this would be the right measure for Toronto,” he told reporters this week, which is political code for lift-off. Of course, this is the same guy who wanted to make the main artery into the city from the burbs a toll road (shot down by the premier), so he’s desperate for revenue.

In fact, Toronto has already started the witch hunt. Officials have been instructed to study electricity and water usage data to ascertain the number of lightly-used properties in the city – wildly estimated to be about 65,000 (at least a third of which are newly-built condos). Tory has asked these bureaucrats for a report on the feasibility of a GTA vacancy tax.

Meanwhile, we’re four weeks away from the province imposing its own market-dousing agenda as politicians react to a 30% surge in average prices, caused largely by speculative fever and house-lusty hormones. The budget seems likely to bring a tax on speculation and flipping plus (maybe) a foreign buyer whack.

Just listen to what Treasurer Charles Sousa had to say a day or two ago: “There are individuals that are going into subdivisions that are buying 10, 40, 50 homes – holding paper – and flipping it … and they’re crowding out families who are trying to buy.”

Yeah, we know where that’s headed. Even if it’s true.

Have you listed yet?

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March 30th, 2017

Posted In: The Greater Fool

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