Monday, July 24, 2017

A Taxing Time

(An earlier version of this story appeared in the Sherman Hub News and North End Breezes.)

I’ll receive my municipal tax bill in the mail this week.

Just about everyone has an opinion on taxes, right?

Take President Donald Trump. On paying taxes Donald apparently doesn’t.  “That makes me smart," he said during a debate last year.

Others have funny ideas about tax avoidance.  “Dear IRS, I am writing to cancel my subscription. Please remove my name from your mailing list.” (Snoopy - aka Charles Schulz)

I’m partial to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s adage:

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” 

In that context, most of us look for fairness in our tax systems.  What exactly “fairness” is remains subject to debate.  Indicators, though, should include simplicity, ability to pay and transparency.

That said, multi-residential property taxation in Hamilton fails the fairness test.

Today, there is a greater awareness by tenants that they pay taxes through their rent.   Ten years ago, the Clinic and community partners reached out through the I am a Tenant and I Vote Campaign to bring this reality to public attention.

At the time, tenant advocate Tom Cooper noted that many tenants were unaware that they were, in fact, paying much higher taxes than those in single family homes.

Writing in Raise the Hammer (, Cooper used real property to property comparisons.

Tenant tax rates were, in some cases, “three times higher than the 'residential property tax rate' their neighbors in the bungalow down the street are levied,” maintained Cooper.

More recently, Don McLean, co-founder and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), told a tenant’s conference that the tax rate on multi-residential units in Hamilton continued to be set at 2.74 times the rate on single-family homes.

“Tenants are effectively paying 20% of their rent in the form of municipal taxes,” said McLean in March 2016.

It is a fact that Hamilton is the one of the leaders in the dubious category of taxing tenants unfairly. While cities like Toronto have set out to address the disparity, Hamilton has turned a blind eye.

Finally, the province has taken note of this injustice and last year announced a review of the property taxation of multi‐residential apartment buildings. In April, they told municipalities that property taxes for new multi-residential apartment buildings must be charged at a similar rate as other residential properties.  It is thought that this will encourage developers to build more new purpose-built rental housing.  This is a good thing.

Meanwhile, some municipalities like Hamilton have had a freeze put on any increases in the property tax burden for multi-residential apartment buildings. The freeze is in place while the issue is studied.

Let’s see what happens.  Tenants have been waiting a long time for fairness. 

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