Online house-sitting service exposes possible loophole in Vancouver’s foreign buyers tax

An entrepreneurial Vancouver couple with backgrounds in commercial renovations and finance have set up a side business with tax avoidance as the selling point.

In an ad posted to Craigslist Sunday, the couple offers to house-sit people’s homes in order to avoid B.C.’s foreign buyers tax, which applies a 15 per cent increase to homes purchased by foreign buyers who don’t live permanently in those homes.

The couple, who identify themselves only as “J + S,” says they have house sat for homes in West Vancouver, Whistler, North Vancouver and Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood.

“Avoid the foreign home buyers tax, we can help you,” the ad writes, asking for potential clients to email for a phone, Skype or in-person interview.

Residents in the Dunbar neighbourhood say the fact that local residents might be helping homeowners avoid the tax is a “betrayal.”

“It makes me really sad,” Lorraine Cameron said. “To get in there and actually make a business out of it is kind of disgraceful.”

Cameron said she’s seen the impact empty homes have had on her community, which have been echoed by residents in other highly sought-after neighbourhoods in Vancouver and throughout the region.

“The kids are still not playing in the parks like you used to see,” she said. “You don’t see people taking community walks or people talking from porch to porch. It’s really a shame.”

Other residents say the service is also hurting those who actually want to live in Vancouver.

“Maybe it is taking it away from a family that could rent it,” Susan Gallant said.

Global News tried to contact the couple that posted the service, but could not get them on the phone.

A visit to the home pictured in the ad found a young man named Xin Tai Liu, who said the picture was used without his family’s permission and that his parents built the home. The property is currently on the market, but he’s been living there since its completion.

“They use my home picture, we might have some trouble with it,” Liu said.

British Columbia’s Finance Minister Carole James didn’t mince words after seeing the ad, calling the practice illegal and a violation of the province’s speculation and vacancy tax.

“If there are people who want to defraud a system they’ll try and find ways to do that. But we have clear anti-avoidance laws in place,” said James.

“We’re very concerned about any kind of scheme people may be putting together and we’ll certainly be looking into it.”

The City of Vancouver, which has its own empty homes tax, states that house-sitters are allowed but must live at a property for at least 30-day increments and will need to prove the address is their primary residence.

Staff also check to make sure a renter or house-sitter’s name isn’t listed on multiple properties.

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