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Day one of the vacant unit tax declaration leaves residents confused, angry and some offline

The online portal for Ottawa homeowners to declare their property status is now open as the city launches its new vacant unit tax.

All homeowners have until March 16 to declare whether all of their residential properties are occupied, even if the property is their principal residence, or face an additional 1 per cent of their property’s assessed value on their tax bill.

River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington says many residents have expressed frustration over accessing the portal and over the onus that the tax places on residents.

“There are two points that residents are raising with me, first their continued displeasure that city council passed this new policy, a tax on residential homeowners who are not using a home for residential purposes,” he explained.

“Second, there was a perception that the portal was going to be open on January 1st… correspondence that went out to homeowners clearly states that it would be ready in January and it is just ready today.”

That misunderstanding led to an urgent rush by some people who were eager to submit their declaration.

"Because they didn't give an exact date of when it started, I got a lot of panicked calls saying I want to do this right now and why isn't it up there?" said Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh.

Many residents spent several hours online Wednesday morning, with the portal showing a message saying it was not available.

Rob DiNardo tried several times. He says, “After I did get in, it was seamless and it did work well.”

But it did not start off well.

“This morning, I went on to the portal and it says it was not accessible between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. I waited until 8. After that, it said 8:30, then I waited and it said 9:30; then I tried again at 11 a.m. and I got it. It was very frustrating.”

The city says, as of Wednesday afternoon, more than 17,000 residents had filled out their declaration online under the city’s new vacant unit tax program.

The aim is to reduce vacant units in the city and build more affordable housing.

“I don’t think (the declaration) is needed, the onus should have been on the city to track it, not the property owner.”

Brockington says residents are frustrated.

“People just don't think it’s necessary. They are quite annoyed that it is a negative option, that if they don’t reply they are going to be taxed one per cent of the assessed value. I certainly did not support this policy or tax,” he said.

“There are 330,000 residential homeowners in this city. Think about how many declaration that is, and for people who are away, who didn’t get the notice, or misplaced the notice, all the time it is going to take to do follow up with these residents.”

Ottawa city council voted last spring to impose the annual tax, a move designed to address homes sitting empty and neglected in the city. Those who don't declare risk paying one per cent of their property's assessed value. 

“We want to see properties rented out and used, and if they're not, then these owners must pay a penalty and that money does go into affordable housing,” Kavanagh said.

Christina Chenard says she was kicked out of the portal several times when she tried to fill in her declaration.

“It definitely reminded me of the initial vaccine portal rollout, as well as the (city’s) swim registration. Swim registration has always been ‘refresh, can’t log in, system timed out,’ that seems very similar to this, that it was a technology and capacity issue.”

Chenard says many residents are confused about what the requirements are.

“My husband threw it out just a couple of days ago because he said, ‘We don’t have to do that because we live in our home!’ But I said, ‘No, I have seen the news, if you don’t declare you are assumed vacant.’ So, I made him go through the garbage Monday night!”

Residents who own more than one property must submit a declaration for each one. A $250 late fee is built in to the new tax program for anyone who doesn’t declare by March 16, but this fee has been waived for 2023. If no declaration is submitted by the late declaration due date of April 30, the property will be deemed vacant and the vacant unit tax will be applied to the roll.

The new tax will be added to the final bill in June. The tax is 1 per cent of the assessed value of the vacant property.

Homeowners should have received a vacant unit tax form late last year. It includes a roll number, an access code, and instructions.

The city says false property status declarations, or failure to provide information when requested, may result in fines of up to $10,000, in addition to payment of the tax.

Tony Miller with the Ottawa Small Landlords Association says he has concerns over disclosing tenant information to the city, without permission from tenants. His association, which represents more than 2,000 landlords in the city, has written to the city and the mayor, urging the declaration to be voluntary and not mandatory. The letter urges the tax to be paused until amendments are made to the bylaw, including more consultation with landlords in the city. 

Residents who may have trouble filling out the declaration, including seniors and persons with disabilities, have other options to declare their occupancy status, the city says.

  • Call Revenue Services at 613-580-2444 and selecting option 3 to complete a declaration over the phone, or to book an in-person appointment at the Mary Pitt Centre at 100 Constellation Dr.
  • Call 613-580-2400 to contact the City using Canada Video Relay Service – which uses internet and mobile phone technologies to connect the caller with real-time sign language interpretation. Top Stories

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