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Richmond resident at a loss after spec tax exemption revoked

The government threatened to place a lien on Tony Chan's house for $90,000 in unpaid taxes.
Tony Chan
Richmond resident Tony Chan is facing a $90,000 bill under B.C.'s speculation and vacancy tax, which he doesn't believe should apply to him.

The rug was recently pulled from under Richmond retiree Tony Chan when he found out that he was, in fact, not exempt from a ballooning speculation tax bill.

Chan, 67, first received media attention in 2021 when he tried to fight B.C.'s speculation and vacancy tax that was imposed on his Terra Nova home.

He was hit with the bill in 2019, which breaks down to about $15,000 a year. Now, six years later, he is asked to pay about $90,000 plus interest or he might lose his house.

"I think the one thing that's eating me up right now is that they did give me an exemption for this. And then two years later, they decided to retract it for reasons unknown," Chan told the Richmond News.

Chan was classified as a speculator because his wife, who lives and works in the U.S., earns more than he does. Even when she retires, Chan's wife will still be earning more through her pension.

Chan had married his wife in 2005 before the legislation came into place and he has lived in the same house since purchasing it in 2000. He does not own any other property.

"I'm not even fitting into what they described as being a speculator, except for my marriage circumstance. ... It's nothing that I have any control over," he said.

"The premier has been making speeches about how difficult it is for seniors, blah blah blah, affordability. Well, guess what? You're putting me in the same place."

In August 2022, after enlisting the help of MLA Teresa Wat and speaking to the media, Chan received a call from an employee in the tax department informing him he was exempt from the tax.

"And so that was the end of it, until just about a few weeks ago, when I got another contact from the [tax] department. They said, 'Well, you're not exempt,'" he recalled.

Chan was told he owes the tax from 2019 onwards and a lien would be placed on his Terra Nova home, which he spent most of his life paying off, for non-payment.

'Bureaucratic bullying' difficult to fight with limited resources

Chan, who hit a wall when trying to seek help from the Office of the Ombudsperson in 2022, is at a loss as to how he can seek recourse.

"I don't really know what to do exactly," he said, adding he will probably have to seek legal opinions.

"But you know, honestly, if I could stand in front of a judge and explain the case, I don't really need a lawyer to explain my case. It's pretty cut and dry."

Even if he hires a lawyer, Chan said, his tax bill will continue to balloon.

"To continue to want to live here with my family, where I've lived my entire life, then I have to pay them a ransom," he said.

Chan added he does not want to move elsewhere in B.C., which could eventually fall under the purview of the regulations as well.

In a statement to the News, the Ministry of Finance said the speculation and vacancy tax has raised more than $394 million to fund new affordable housing since it was imposed.

The tax is applied to untaxed worldwide earners as well as those holding their properties vacant, it added.

Canadian citizens or permanent residents who are B.C. residents for income tax purposes and not untaxed worldwide earners who use the property as their principal residence are exempt from the tax, according to the comprehensive list set out by the government.

"The administrator has no authority to exempt homeowners outside these legislated exemptions," reads the ministry's statement.

Homeowners who don't qualify for an exemption may be eligible for a non-refundable tax credit, and those who believe the tax was applied incorrectly can submit an appeal within 90 days from the date on the assessment or determination.

"The appeal process provides an impartial review of the application of the legislation to the specific case, but cannot provide relief from the tax unless the circumstance qualifies for an exemption or reduction of tax under the legislation," the ministry stated.

Chan thinks the key is to find someone in charge to listen to him.

In a letter to Premier David Eby, he described the "continued pursuit" from the tax department as "bureaucratic bullying of the worst kind" as most seniors "don't have the financial resources to fight the red tape."

"The government’s principal role is to protect its citizens rather than to make life unnecessarily difficult, especially long-time citizens and seniors who have spent a lifetime building the province," Chan wrote.

He hopes making this issue known to the public during the election season will prompt a response from the government.

"At the end of it all, I'm trying to make it bigger than me. But the fact is, they can make these capricious decisions. It can affect anybody," said Chan.

Chan has not heard from the premier's office nor MLA Wat, who was also sent the letter at the same time almost two weeks ago.

The situation is "illogical" and "unfair," he said.

"Clearly, I'm frustrated. Because obviously they have resources to keep making my life difficult."

With files from the Richmond News

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