Municipal councillors in Summerside, P.E.I., hope a new vacant property tax might bring the city one step closer addressing the housing crisis.
Council voted unanimously Monday night to bring in a vacant building tax in the city — something council had been examining in an effort to help the housing crunch and encourage development.
"We just thought we would get ahead of it before it became an issue," said Coun. Carrie Adams, chair of Summerside's Policy and Bylaw committee.
Adams said it's hard to get a read on just how many buildings in Summerside are vacant right now, but there had been an increase in residents bringing the issue forward.
"[They were] saying that, 'There's a vacant building beside me, it's getting a little run down, what's the story with it,'" she said.
Buildings have to sit empty for 90 days under the new bylaw, Adams said, after which owners have to get a permit and secure the building. That would include doing a walk- through with a building officer and usually the fire chief.
The permit costs $2,485 and it is good for four years.
"So if you bought a property here and you aren't going to be able to come here for another few years, you can work through that with city staff," said Adams, adding that if the property ends up being reoccupied during that time, a portion can be refunded.
August 20 deadline
If owners don't comply, fines start at $3,000.
"If they do fail to get a permit, or to properly secure the property, and that would be in cooperation with our building officer and police services, the city can take the steps necessary to secure the property and then charge it back on the property owner," she said.
The hope is that people who don't live in vacant properties might consider selling or opening the property as a rental to offer up to a tight housing market.
At Monday's meeting, Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart and other councillors clarified the rules on seasonal dwellings and confirmed those properties in good repair would be exempt.
Property owners in Summerside now have until August 20 to get a permit if their home or commercial property is vacant.