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In 2 days, Toronto received over 55,000 complaints from homeowners about vacant home tax bills

The City of Toronto says it has received more than 55,000 complaints this week about its vacant home tax notices of assessment from homeowners who claim their properties were occupied last year.

Some homeowners say they forgot to file before the March 15 deadline, while others say they filled out the declaration in time and were billed by the city anyway.

The tax is intended for homeowners who choose to keep their residential properties vacant. The city has said it is a measure to increase the supply of housing by discouraging homeowners from leaving residential properties unoccupied amid a housing crisis.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the city says residents should not pay the late fee. It says the late fee will be immediately waived for anyone who says they completed the declaration before the March 15 deadline.

“Furthermore, given the challenges experienced with this year’s process, the Budget Chief and Mayor will be bringing forward direction to Toronto City Council to seek authority to waive the $21.24 late fee for everyone impacted this calendar year,” the statement reads.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow apologized on Thursday for confusion created by the notices of assessment, saying she will sort out the problem. If homeowners filed their declaration of occupancy status for their property before the deadline, they will not have to pay, she said.

“We’re cleaning up this mess. I apologize,” Chow told reporters.

“By the time I arrived here, the system was already set. I’m seeing the impact of it. It is not acceptable the way that we rolled out this program. It is very new, as you know. I promise you that I will clean this up so next round people will not have to line up or have to get a bill that is shocking,” she said.

“I understand the frustration. I understand the shock of getting a notice of how much a person has to pay.”

Chow said she experienced it herself last year when she missed the deadline for the declaration because she was out of the city on a wilderness trip in the Yukon. She tried to register but said the system was difficult.

“Getting that form was a shock,” she said.

Late fee is ‘money grab’ by city, homeowner says

Lisa Diec, a Toronto homeowner who lives in her home, said she received a brown envelope in the mail that contained a vacant home tax notice of assessment from the city. She said she filled out the declaration form last year. Her notice of assessment said she has to pay $3,300.

Diec said she will have to pay a late fee of $21.24 for failing to fill out the declaration of occupancy in time, which she said is a “money grab” by the city.

“I was very surprised,” she said.

She added the city needs to revamp the vacant home tax to make it more user friendly.

“I just don’t think it’s an easy process,” she said.

WATCH | CBC’s Kelda Yuen reports on the confusion surrounding the tax: 

In 2 days, Toronto received over 43,000 complaints from homeowners about vacant home tax bills

4 hours ago

Duration 4:16

The City of Toronto says it has received more than 43,000 complaints this week about its vacant home tax notices of assessment from homeowners who claim their properties were occupied last year.

Duncan Ralston, a writer, said in an email on Thursday that he received a bill for $5,200 split into three payments, even though he filed his declaration of occupancy status before the deadline.

“I received the notice everyone else did and decided to file it online, as I felt like it could easily get lost in the mail. I guess that was the wrong choice, considering it seems like there are a lot of other people who got these ‘assessments’ as well. I assume they all used the website to file,” he said.

“The funny thing is, when I called 311 to complain, it had a special message telling people to go to the ‘online portal’ to file their complaints. This was my first hint that something went very wrong on their end, especially when they added something like, ‘be patient, the portal might be down due to a high volume of visitors to the website.'”

Ralston said the issue is not his error and he has yet to receive a call or email from the city about his complaint.

Staff ‘prioritizing’ processing of complaints, city says

Russell Baker, manager of media relations and issues management for the city, said in an email on Thursday that the city opened a portal on Tuesday to allow homeowners to submit a complaint on the vacant home tax website about their  notices of assessment.

By late Wednesday afternoon, more than 55,000 notices of complaint had been filed by homeowners who said their properties were occupied in 2023. 

“The City is receiving a high volume of Notice of Complaint filings through the portal and staff are prioritizing the processing of these complaints,” Baker said in the email.

“Once their complaint is reviewed and the grounds of the complaint are found to be valid (for example, where the owner ‘failed to declare’ and the property was occupied), then their property tax account will be adjusted and the Vacant Home Tax levy will not apply.”

The city said in a separate email on Thursday that it received declarations of occupancy status for about 650,000 residential units from a base of more than 800,000 residential property tax accounts by the deadline, representing a compliance rate of more than 80 percent.

About 150,000 notices of assessment were mailed to property owners to inform them that their property was subject to the vacant home tax, either because it was deemed vacant, given that a declaration of occupancy status was not received before the deadline, or because they declared it as such in 2023, the city said.

Baker said the city sent vacant home tax notices of assessment to residential property owners who either declared their property vacant, or did not make a declaration of occupancy status for the 2023 tax year, before the deadline. 

Owners must declare status of properties every year

Under the vacant home tax bylaw, owners are required to declare occupancy status of their properties every year. 

According to Baker, owners who believe they received a notice of assessment in error may have declared their properties vacant for the 2022 tax year and not declared for 2023.

Baker said if the property was an owner’s principal residence, or was occupied by tenants for more than six months in 2023, the vacant home tax does not apply and owners do not have to pay the levy. 

But he said they must file a notice of complaint and indicate that the property was occupied.

Property owners who received a notice of assessment for 2023 and would like to dispute it and can confirm that their property was in fact occupied can submit a complaint through the portal.

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