Friday, 6 Dec 2019

Belcarra residents looking at class action lawsuit against B.C. government over speculation tax

A group of residents in the community of Belcarra are getting closer to launching a class action lawsuit against the B.C. government over the controversial Speculation and Vacancy Tax.

Mayor Neil Belenkie says the provincial government is unfairly targeting local owners who have second homes that are water-only access and used primarily as summer homes.

WATCH: Village of Belcarra asks for speculation tax exemption

“This goes beyond Belcarra’s residents alone,” Belenkie said.

“Belcarra and other affected residents have now started to band together, and I understand there are multiple lawyers that specialize in class action lawsuits now being engaged in a selection process to represent the non-speculators.”

Belcarra residents visited the B.C. legislature last week to raise their concerns about the tax.

One of the residents, Nancy Strain, owns a taxable second home that her father built. The cabin is assessed at $26,500 but the land is worth more than $1.3 million.

WATCH: Vancouver mansions up for rent to avoid paying tax

Strain says she cannot afford the tax and is still in the early process of deciding whether to be part of the class action. The 71-year-old has sent a letter to Finance Minister Carole James about her concerns around the tax.

“I understand the Hon. Ms. Carole James advised that she would review our request for an exemption, but it would not apply until the next year,” the letter read.

“It is unacceptable to apply this tax to the year 2018 as this legislation was only passed on November 27, 2018.  It is very unfair to impose a tax prior to it being made law.

“We need immediate attention to this matter.  I personally cannot afford to pay this onerous tax from my income of Old Age Pension and Canada Pension.  How do you justify levying such an onerous tax on your low-income citizens. Why should we be forced to either pay this exorbitant tax or lose the use of our own cabin which is a legacy to the family.”

WATCH: Negative billing means B.C. homeowners could be forced to pay speculation tax, even if they are not speculating

The B.C. government introduced the legislation to address housing affordability and to increase the number of rental properties available in the province.

The province has repeatedly said that 99 per cent of British Columbians will not have to pay the tax.

In the case of Strain and other cabin owners in Belcarra, the tax will average around $6,000 a year. It is unclear how quickly a formal class action lawsuit could be filed.

“I don’t think they have any choice. They are being backed into this,” Belenkie said.

“No one in the NDP, in every conversation I have had, has indicated that Belcarra is being correctly targeted by the speculation tax nor have have any residents been accused of being speculators.

“This is the best way they have available to them based on all the options that have been exhausted to protect themselves from this misapplied tax.”

About 40 per cent of the homes in the Metro Vancouver community located west of Coquitlam are only accessible by water, and the area has not been exempted from the tax. Belcarra has 300 homes in the jurisdiction.

Retired teacher Charline Robson was given two properties by her aunt three years ago. One lot sits empty, while the other has a summer home on it.

The waterside cabin has been in the family since the 1950s and has no potable water access or sewer. The cabin itself is worth $15,000 while the land is worth $1.3 million.

“The goal has multiple potential outcomes. The first is to convince the NDP to properly apply the tax towards the targeted individuals it should be applied towards. The financial compensation may allow them to afford the tax,” Belenkie said.

The government also hopes the tax will turn empty homes into housing for people and raise revenue that will go to supporting affordable housing.

The speculation tax has been criticized by mayors in Kelowna, Langford and West Kelowna for hurting the local housing market. The tax was brought in as a crucial part of the B.C. government’s housing affordability plan.

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