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New tax on vacant homes in Hamilton

Story and Photos by Kathy Renwald

Demolishing a vacant house in North End Hamilton


  Pick a street in Hamilton and see a snap shot of the forces behind the human housing dilemma. Vacant homes, Airbnb’s, signs for never built condos, the homeless camping on the fringes.

  These issues in various forms were all on the agenda for Hamilton city councillors this week. 

  No easy answers are to be found, or quick fixes or solutions that please all.

   On Wednesday council considered a proposal to tax the owners of vacant homes. The Vacant Unit Tax passed 13-3. As described in the new regulations one can foresee hurdles and stumbling blocks at every intersection. 

  Like many other prickly issues around housing the city relies heavily on citizen participation to help collar violators.

  Everyday espionage will play a part in mapping out the empty home registry in the city. But that’s just one component in what will be a web of investigation in order to rule out legitimate reasons for a house to be vacant. Those would include renovations, death of the owner, owner in long term care, or court orders prohibiting sale of a property.

  Council learned this week that up to 16 full time staff may be needed to run the Vacant Tax operation, which prompted some to ask if it is worth it to collect a rather meagre return on investment. Councillor Nrinder Nann reminded colleagues that the vacant home tax is not designed as a money maker, but as a way to return housing stock to the market and perhaps ease affordable housing shortages.

  If it could efficiently address dilapidated, boarded-up houses, and remove their potential as firetraps that would be worthwhile. Although the city’s property standards bylaw should already be addressing some of these issues.

  The motion to limit short term rentals in the city passed, but it’s worth reflection on the the people who wrote in support of Airbnb  type operations. One operator who has a small rental property in a rural area of Hamilton said her home has been used by health care workers needing to quarantine from elderly parents, or people who needed a place to stay after property damage to their own homes.  The income she said allowed her to stay at home with her children.

  Councillor Esther Pauls, in voting against the bylaw, noted that short term rentals provided needed housing for foreign students, and short term contract workers.

   Others welcomed the new licensing rules including the requirement that Airbnb’s must be the primary residence of the owner/operator.

Note left by Airbnb guest
Upsetting note left by Airbnb guest. PHOTO KATHY RENWALD
Kathy Renwald

  If you happen to live close to an Airbnb that is loosely supervised the new rules could relieve aggravating behaviour.  One neighbour of mine had her driveway blocked by a short term renter. There was a sign on his windshield to the effect-“Please call this number when you need to get out of your driveway.”

  So, expect turbulence ahead with the many housing issues that need retooling and of course the push for density that will introduce new multi-residential housing in single family neighbourhoods.. 

1 Comment

  • There are 500,000 immigrants being imported to Canada in the next 12 months. They need short term housing as they get established.

    Foreign students.

    People relocating.

    Maybe you should look at short term rentals of +1 month as a separate category

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