News / Vancouver

Eby calls for army of auditors to examine B.C. real estate deals

NDP MLA David Eby is calling for more examination of Metro Vancouver homeowners who report poverty-level incomes, but own homes worth millions.

NDP MLA David Eby at his constituency office during a Sept. 14 press conference

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

NDP MLA David Eby at his constituency office during a Sept. 14 press conference

NDP MLA David Eby is calling on the B.C. government to hire more tax auditors to examine the Metro Vancouver phenomenon of homeowners who report poverty-level incomes, but own homes worth millions.

Eby presented his findings of a land title search he recently did of 250 properties between 2012 and 2016 in the Mackenzie Heights area, a neighbourhood sandwiched between Dunbar and Kerrisdale on Vancouver’s Westside.

The neighbourhood was identified as having a high number of multi-million homes with very low incomes through an analysis of census data done by Jens von Bergmann, a Vancouver-based data analyst.

Out of the 250 properties — all in the $1.5 million to $5 million range — the owners of 26 of the homes identified their occupation as homemaker, while another 5 said they were students. The land titles also showed one $2.3 million home registered to a waitress, with property taxes of $10,000 a year, while another home worth $1.2 million belongs to a casino dealer.

“I can’t say that anyone has done anything improper here,” Eby said. “The question I have is where is the money coming from? Because students and homemakers, waitresses, by definition, have very low or no incomes.”

All of the homes Eby identified were owned by people with Chinese names, but he emphasized he and his staff did not pull the records based on ethnicity.

“We are pulling (the records) based on whether people identify themselves as students or homemakers or others with identifiably low income,” he said. “I think that the issue is not the origin of the name, the issue is lax tax enforcement.

“There are many hardworking Chinese families, either new immigrants or long-time residents of Metro Vancouver, and I would hate for the message to come out of this be that there is some type of culturally-specific issue.”

In response to several media investigations showing specific examples of tax evasion in real estate, both the province and the Canada Revenue Agency have promised to hire additional auditors to focus on Metro Vancouver’s real estate market.

“We’re told there are eight auditors either being hired or in the process of being hired at the (B.C.) Ministry of Finance…Revenue Canada says they’re bringing 50 auditors in to the entire lower mainland,” Eby said, referring to a recent story in the South China Morning Post quoting a CRA auditor who said 50 auditors would not be nearly enough.

“If this neighbourhood is any indication of what’s happening in our real estate market, we flagged 30 properties of 250 titles in a very cursory look.”

A family in which the father is working and making income in another country while the wife and children live in Canada does not have to declare income tax in Canada, Eby said.

“We have tax treaties with a number of nations that would allow you to file and pay your taxes in a foreign jurisdiction and not have to pay tax in Canada.”

The NDP is supporting an additional property tax which would apply if homes are left vacant or if the homeowner does not pay tax in British Columbia. In contrast, the provincial government introduced a 15% property transfer tax this summer which applies to property bought by foreign nationals.

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