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Opinion: Are Burnaby land owners doing half-assed projects to avoid taxes?

Some Burnaby home projects look abandoned

I got a tip the other day from a friend about a sketchy construction project in the Montecito area of North Burnaby.

The friend was walking at night and saw a pretty half-assed construction project on a new house.

The project was maybe a third-of-the-way along, but looks like it hasn’t been touched in months. I checked it out and it’s pretty overgrown.

“Maybe they are trying to avoid the vacancy tax,” my friend theorized.

He might be onto something. I’ve seen other projects like this scattered around the city – passing by them month after month, but seeing zero progress. You never see any workers on site.

I checked with a source who works at a different Metro Vancouver city and apparently this is kind of a thing, but they weren’t sure how successful the owners were at not getting nailed with the tax.

Here’s what I found on the Government of B.C. website: “Owners of property that is under construction are exempt from speculation and vacancy tax if reasonable steps are taken without undue delay to develop or renovate the property.”

To be eligible for an exemption, the owner must be carrying out eligible building activity.

"Building activity" is defined as the following types of activities:

  • Applying for financing
  • Applying for a permit or other necessary approval
  • Entering into contracts for designing, building or engineering
  • Demolishing or removing existing improvements
  • Clearing or excavating the site
  • Constructing or placing the residence on the property or substantially renovating the residence (“substantial renovation” is when no one can live there because of renovations)
  • Any other activity necessary for the construction, placement or substantial renovation of the residence

I guess the big question is what qualifies as “reasonable steps” taken to build something on a vacant property. Is it like the seemingly abandoned project like I saw? Or can you just have a load of lumber and a bucket of nails left on the property?

And does B.C. have the resources to identify these scams?

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.