In May of 2022, the previous city council passed a motion that would be used to create a Vacant Unit Tax in the city of Ottawa. The City’s stated goal was “to change behaviour” to help blunt the rising cost of housing by introducing more supply into a housing market experiencing shortages, which was seen as a cause for keeping prospective homeowners out of the market.
Declarations for about 330,000 residents were to be completed online and the first deadline for declaration was set at March 16, 2023. We have had many residents reach out about issues with this program and for this reason I’d like to address some of them here.
While the stated intent of the program is a noble one, the City did not seem to anticipate the issues that such a hasty rollout to such a massive program would create. There seems to be an unnecessary burden being placed on residents to provide the City with information it would likely be able to uncover elsewhere. The cost of the program is another area of concern that needs to be addressed and the result of any audit or review needs to be made public.
I recently seconded a motion that intends to undertake a speedy review of how the tax is being applied, what issues are being encountered, and how many residents are being unnecessarily taxed within the first year of its rollout. I’m currently engaged in further conversations with other councillors to determine the most effective options to either improve and ensure a fairly-implemented program, or consider its cancellation as a learning opportunity.
I’ve also spoken to the mayor about the importance of an appropriate, timely, and thorough review of the program if it must proceed.
Many residents have contacted our office about difficulties with declaring their property as their primary residence. Currently, City staff is dealing with the specific issues they are encountering, such as incorrect information on somebody’s property tax roll. There are some who have stated they cannot complete their forms because the page insists that multiple units exist on a property. Our office is currently in contact with the Office of Revenue Services to determine the best course of action in the case of such errors and will send that information out as soon as it is received.
For residents who have not yet received a form, there have also been e-mail reminders sent to many residents who receive paperless billing from the city. If you have not received an e-mail or a letter, but DO have a myService Ottawa account, you can sign in online, view an interim property tax bill and click the tab for Vacant Unit Tax along the top to declare. If such a tab does not exist on your property tax account, contact our office for further assistance. The City has also mentioned that a second round of letters would be released in January to remind residents to declare.
Office staff is here to help those who are having accessibility issues with their declaration. Residents are encouraged to call the VUT line at 613-580-2444. Staff at the Client Service Centre, and the Councillor’s office at 5670 Carp Rd. are prepared to help, but residents are encouraged to contact our office to ensure somebody is present to assist. Some property information may be required to help complete declaration.
I want to ensure that residents who are already burdened by the declaration process for this tax, are not further burdened by unfair implementation of its penalties. Our office is here to help with the technical aspects of declaring your property for the Vacant Unit Tax and we will provide any answers we can.
The Ward 5 Office is located at 5670 Carp Rd. and can be reached at 613-580-2475. The VUT office can be reached at 613-580-2444, and declarations can be made over the phone. An e-mail address has also been set up for questions at email@example.com. Keep an eye out for updates at out new website, which is now live at ClarkeKelly.ca.
To read all Coun. Clarke Kelly’s columns, click here.
The preceding column was written by City of Ottawa Ward 5 Coun. Clarke Kelly, part of the councillor’s ongoing, bi-weekly column for West Carleton Online, made available to the entire community through an agreement with the publisher.