California Explores “Vacancy Taxes”

Since the Great Recession, vacant properties, mortgage default and foreclosure are terms that have become a fixture in the mainstream lexicon. From endless media reports, white papers, and even movies, this subject matter has been catapulted into the public consciousness -- and for good reason.

In short, no one wants to see a property sit vacant. Local code enforcement departments want properties to be safe, violation-free and camouflaged by neighborhood normalcy. Banks and other mortgage stakeholders want them to be lived-in, protected and profitable. Landlords want a steady supply of profitable rent checks.

But what if these properties could be leveraged to combat affordable housing issues and put a solid dent in their overall rates?

Currently, a number of California cities are considering what’s known as a “vacancy tax” to combat address these and other related issues, such as generating funding for homeless programs. According to supporters, vacancy taxes (or “empty home penalties”) would improve access to affordable housing by keeping speculators from sitting on them until they can rent or sell them for a more profitable rate.

The most recent city to approve such an action has been Oakland. Through Measure W, a tax as much as $6,000 per parcel and $3,000 per condo unit can be imposed on properties occupied fewer than 50 days per year. It has been estimated that the tax will bring in around $10 million annually. With voters showing overwhelming support for the measure, proponents of vacancy taxes in San Francisco and Los Angeles are pushing to have similar ones added to ballots in either March or November 2020.

Can actions like this ultimately work to bring down housing prices and help to eliminate vacant properties? Decide for yourself. Learn more by checking out the following articles from Capital & Main and DS News.