Vancouver senior slapped with empty homes tax when renovations were delayed due to pandemic

An 89-year-old woman who has been renting out a Vancouver apartment for 27 years, has been told by the City of Vancouver that she owes more than $5,000 in empty homes tax.

When the senior’s tenant moved out in December 2019, she decided to renovate the home on Hamilton Street before renting it out again. The kitchen was 30 years old.

But she didn’t know then that the renovations would take a lot longer than expected due to pandemic setbacks.

New countertops, cupboards and appliances were ordered. The old kitchen was ripped out, “and then everything went sideways,” said her son Greg Jacklin, who helps his mother manage the apartment.

The family estimated the renovations would take eight weeks tops, but delays due to COVID-19 lockdowns and labour shortages saw the upgrade take almost a year.

What’s more, some items were stuck at facilities on the prairies, trapped by railway shutdowns. When the items finally arrived, the wrong boxes had been sent.

As the months passed, the bills piled up and nobody was paying rent.

“Every retired widowed school teacher can use some cash,” said her son.

Each year, Vancouver homeowners are required to declare whether their properties are empty. If they are, the owner may be charged 1.25 per cent tax. The empty homes tax is designed to make finding a place to rent easier, and force speculators to rent their homes.

Greg Jacklin told CTV News they declared the apartment empty, because it was. It couldn't be rented in its current state.

“I wasn’t going to lie, because I didn’t want anything to come back at us,” he said. “The unit was empty, there’s no kitchen so we couldn't rent it out.”

Despite pleading their case, the City of Vancouver’s tax department didn’t back down and told her she owes $5,152.06. Jacklin even appealed the decision, and argued extenuating circumstances, but that plea was also denied.

“You know you get to a point where are you were just tired of the whole thing,” Jacklin said. “My mother at 88 years old did not suddenly turn into a real estate speculator.”

A spokesperson for the city told CTV News tax exemptions are sometimes made for owners with building permits.

But Jacklin was renovating a kitchen. A permit isn’t needed for that.

Today the Hamilton apartment is looking brand new, and a new tenant has finally moved in.