Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Joo Kim Tiah, right, the head of the Holborn Group, talks with Donald Trump Jr., left, and Ivanka Trump at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver, on Oct. 27., 2014.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

A high-profile Vancouver development company that has been at odds with the city more than once is now suing it over the empty-homes tax.

A company controlled by Joo Kim Tiah, the head of the Holborn Group, is challenging Vancouver’s decision to assess a $144,700 empty-homes tax on the dilapidated and vacant former hostel downtown that it bought in 2006.

It’s not the first time that Vancouver has seen a legal challenge over the precedent-setting tax that had generated $60-million in net revenues as of last fall for its affordable-housing fund. But the new lawsuit has unusual grounds.

Story continues below advertisement

In the suit that was filed mid-April, the lawyer for 500 Dunsmuir Property Ltd. says that, although the property was used as a residence for decades when it was owned by the Salvation Army and later when it was leased by BC Housing from 2009 to 2013, it was deemed uninhabitable and boarded up at the end of that term.

As well, the suit argues, the city’s current zoning doesn’t allow residential use on that site any more so, when it is eventually redeveloped, that won’t be a permitted use.

Vancouver created an empty-homes tax in 2017 amid rising concerns about condos and houses that had been bought by foreign investors being left empty. The goal was to motivate owners to rent them out or sell them to people who would live in them. It ended up catching both foreign and Canadian owners of vacation, second-home and investment properties.

Vancouver home’s record $4-million sale raises eyebrows

Holborn has gone through two appeals with the city, arguing that “the property was not zoned for, and therefore incapable of, occupancy for residential purposes.”

But it has been rejected both times. The vacancy-tax review panel at the city dismissed a request for review this February.

The city has not yet filed a response and city officials would not comment on an unresolved legal case, but the Dunsmuir Property lawsuit says that the city argued, in debating the case, that “the existing zoning does not restrict the occupancy of the existing building on the property.” As well, a review officer stated that the building could still be used for residential occupancy under the bylaw that allows single-room hotel-type rooms to continue on a site even after the zoning has changed until a new development or rezoning has been approved by the city.

Holborn officials did not respond to a request for comment, nor did their lawyer. It’s not clear whether the property has also been assessed or paid the empty-homes tax for 2019 and 2020.

Story continues below advertisement

The city’s property-tax records indicate that no taxes are outstanding for the 500 Dunsmuir address, which had a general tax bill of $69,000 on the property that was assessed at $15.2-million for that year.

If it has not been paid the last two years and will be again this year, the costs are mounting.

The 1.25-per-cent additional tax on the property in 2019 would have amounted to $194,000; in 2020, $333,037. (The property was valued at $26.6-million in 2018, but only $15.5-million in 2020.)

If Mr. Tiah’s company is unsuccessful in challenging the empty-homes tax charge, it will have to pay an extra $440,000 for 2021 taxes because the rate is rising to 3 per cent for that year.

Two homeowners and one development company filed lawsuits against the city in 2019 because of the empty-homes tax, saying they had been charged unfairly.

The developer Pure West Financial Holdings Group was still pursuing the challenge as of February this year, when it filed its latest petition to the court over the tax being assessed when the company had been held up in its redevelopment of a site because of late city permits.

Story continues below advertisement

The two homeowners got consent orders from the city in February and March last year where the decisions of the vacancy-review panel were overturned. One was exempted from paying the tax; one got permission to get an extension to file his empty-homes tax declaration.

Vancouver has seen 1,956 people file complaints about being improperly assessed the empty-homes tax up to November, 2020. The majority of the complaints were accepted but 645 were not.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies