During last fall’s mayoralty race, Neil Belenkie often compared Belcarra with Lions Bay and Bowen Island.
After all, the three municipalities are in the Metro Vancouver region and have relatively small populations that often swell in the summer as many taxpayers make their way to their second homes.
But when Belenkie found out Lions Bay and Bowen Island were excluded from the province’s upcoming speculation and vacancy tax — an effort to make more homes available in B.C. — the newly elected mayor began to question why Belcarra wasn’t in the mix.
Belenkie said the speculation tax wasn’t raised during the civic campaign but, increasingly, he’s hearing from a wave of upset homeowners with Belcarra property about how the tax will affect their livelihoods.
Now, the mayor fears the worst as some say they can’t afford the tax and may have to rent out or sell.
Ron Davis is a Belcarra homeowner who’s caught.
He and his wife, Sue, bought a village home in 1986 and raised their family there.
But four years ago, when their daughter’s special needs program moved from Port Moody to Port Coquitlam, they purchased a home on Burke Mountain for Sarah to travel less; they consider it their primary residence now and pay the city of Coquitlam about $5,000 a year in property taxes.
With their Belcarra property, which is located at the end of Turtlehead Road, assessed at $4.7 million, the family is bracing for an annual $23,500 hit with the speculation tax on top of the village property taxes of about $16,000 a year.
In addition, Davis said the family will also have to shell out about $4,800 a year for a new provincial tax for homes valued more than $4 million.
That translates to about $44,300 a year in taxes just for their Belcarra cottage alone, “which, structurally, is really nothing but has a great waterfront view.”
Because Davis frequents the place often and the family keeps it as a summer pad, they don’t want to rent it out and, with the real estate market cooling, they don’t want to sell it, either.
“They are forcing us to make a decision,” Davis said of the NDP government. “It’s not fair especially when they’re exempting one place and not another.”
Recently, Davis met with Belenkie, Coquitlam-Burke Mountain BC Liberal MLA Joan Isaacs and a representative from Port Moody-Coquitlam NDP MLA Rick Glumac’s office to discuss his predicament.
Belenkie stressed Belcarra has never had a speculation problem and, like Davis, he’s also seeking answers, turning to Glumac as well as West Vancouver-Sea to Sky BC Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy to learn how he had Lions Bay exempt.
But, in an email to The Tri-City News this morning (Wednesday), Glumac stated the speculation tax isn’t determined by community size and most of his constituents want it in place to quell the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver.
“As an MLA, I hear all the time from people in our community who can't afford to own a home or rent here, and from businesses who can't find the workers they need,” he wrote. “These are students, families, and seniors that have been working hard their whole lives and are facing extreme challenges.”
Belcarra’s concerns come as the province starts to mail out declaration letters to all B.C. homeowners.
Homeowners are asked to declare — by March 31 — if their home is used as a primary residence or being rented out at least six months of the year. And if one of those requirements is met, the property is exempt from the tax.
For the 2018 tax year, homes must be rented a minimum of three months in one month increments.
Anmore Mayor John McEwen, who also governs a smaller municipality, said he’s in agreement with the mayor in the neighbouring village.
McEwen hasn’t had complaints about empty homes in Anmore; however, “we do have owners who are snowbirds who have additional places in the desert that they visit throughout the winter,” he said. “This could be problematic if they are out of the country when these declarations are to be filled out.”
What is the Speculation Tax
The speculation tax includes all municipalities in the Capital Regional District excluding Salt Spring Island, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area and the Southern Gulf Islands; it also includes municipalities within the Metro Vancouver Regional District but excludes Bowen Island and Lions Bay.
The other taxable communities are: Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Nanaimo and Lantzville.
A finance ministry spokesperson said: "Permanent residences are exempt and there are exemptions available for a wide variety of circumstances, including if the home belongs to a person with disabilities, is uninhabitable, the owner lives in a secondary residence due to medical treatment, the home was just bought or inherited, the owners are going through separation or divorce, or the property has rental restrictions, among others.
"There is a tax credit available for B.C. residents who own a second home. This credit is worth $2,000 and effectively exempts the first $400,000 of a secondary residence’s value. It appears the homeowner has left out the tax credit in their calculation of SVT owed."