Essex County considers update to Vacant Unit Property Tax

Filed under: Headline,IN THE NEWS |

by Adam Gault

The County of Essex and its seven local municipalities held a public work shop on Wednesday, September 27 at the Essex Civic Centre to consider the merits of the Vacant Unit Property Tax.

Introduced to Essex County in 2001 and enacted in 2002, the Vacant Unit Property Tax Rebate Program was introduced to provide property tax relief to owners of vacant commercial and industrial buildings.

As the program currently stands, property owners may apply to their respective municipalities for the tax rebate for periods of property vacancy. This can include commercial buildings without business tenants, or industrial buildings that are currently inactive.

For properties to be eligible for the current rebate, the property, or portion of the property, must be vacant for 90 consecutive days. With eligibility, property owners are eligible for a property tax rebate of 30% for vacant commercial space, and 35% for vacant industrial space.

There are concerns that the 90-day continuous vacancy requirement can discourage landlords from accepting short-term or seasonal rentals. Furthermore, the ability of property owners to continuously re-apply for the tax rebate can be seen as a way to take advantage of current loopholes in the rebate process.

“I don’t like that you can continuously apply for it,” Essex Ward 1 Councillor Steve Bjorkman said. “The Town is still supplying all the services, vacant or not. They can take advantage of that, and there’s no incentive to fill it.”

Under the current rules, there is no guarantee tax savings from the rebate program are being used to increase rental  viability, and according to some, counterproductive to other programs which have been implemented to encourage redevelopment and future growth.

Councillor Bjorkman is not opposed to amending the program in some way, favouring a one-time property tax rebate for half of a year per applicant.

“I would like to see a short-term property tax rebate period,” Bjorkman said. “I think there are vacancy rates across our county that are on the rise. That’s a lot of money from across the county that need’s to be made up.”

Although the public consultation was not well attended, the County was still able to collect feedback from the official online survey and email regarding this issue.

From here, the feedback from the constituents will be reported back to the municipalities by the end of October. With the information given to them, each respective municipal council will formalize a recommendation to present to Essex County Council this coming November.

If the Essex County Council approves any changes to the program, a resolution will be sent to the Minister of Finance indicating that the County of Essex will either modify or eliminate the current vacant tax rebate program.