Town proposes end to provincial incentive for lax landlords

The Town of Minto is lobbying the provincial government to change a Municipal Act provision it feels rewards irresponsible landlords.

During a meeting with Ivan Baker, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, a delegation including members of town council and staff asked for changes to Section 364, Regulation 325/01 of the act.

The regulation permits owners of buildings entirely vacant for 90 days to receive a 30% property tax rebate.

During the meeting, held during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference Aug. 14 to 17, the delegation pointed out the act allows landlords to receive a property tax rebate even though they have no intention of renting their building.

In their presentation, the delegation explained, “landlords are given an incentive not to renovate and their buildings become a blight on the local community.”

The delegation pointed out the town offers Community Improvement Plan (CIP) incentives that include grants, low interest loans, and tax increment financing to encourage renovation of buildings.

A report on the delegation from CAO Bill White explains the town provided a direct grant of $40,000 to support renovation of the former post office building in downtown Harriston and this renovated building is close to 100 per cent occupied.

“Other buildings  have been renovated as a result of the town’s Community Improvement Plan Incentives,” White notes in the report.

“Others have chosen to abandon their building and collect a 30 per cent rebate on their property tax.”

The report points out that “despite the town’s incentives and encouragement,” the landlord of one downtown building which contains three long-vacant storefronts “chose to remove all residential tenants and disconnect utilities so the building can sit entirely unrented with a 30 per cent tax rebate.”

The town told ministry officials, “The provincial rebate for vacant buildings works against the town’s incentive program by rewarding landlord inactivity.” The town asked the province to consider amending the act to deny a rebate for vacant properties where there is an approved CIP in place that provides incentives to encourage renovations.

At the Sept. 6 meeting, White advised council that following the delegation, ministry staff contacted Minto treasurer Gordon Duff and asked him to sit on a board “to look at the amendment that we proposed to the Municipal Act.

“So he’s going to be sitting with them to help them work out an amendment to the rebate programs, which we pointed out an anomaly with,” White stated.

‘Hit a nerve’

White said another delegation from the town at AMO, this one with Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, was also “very successful.”

The delegation focussed on the town’s efforts to assume ownership of the Harriston Lawn Bowling property, which the town discovered is owned by the office of the Public Guardian and Trustee because the lawn bowling club legally folded in 1963. Despite lack of legal status members continued to operate on the property as if the club was still in place and the club remained listed as owner on the tax roll, with taxes being paid by individual club members.

To ease the burden on club members, the town planned to assume the property and operate lawn bowling as a municipal recreation program.

However the municipality balked at a clause in a proposed agreement with the trustee’s office stipulating that if the land use changed from parkland or public use, the trustee would have to be consulted again and the town would have to pay the agency fair market value.

The delegation explained to the minster the town has no intention of selling the land for any purpose and that  it is in a floodplain, has no highway access and is not suitable for development.

White said the minister was interested in a revised agreement proposed by the town, replacing the offending clause with a clause confirming the town’s intention.

“I’m hearing from the lawyer that we might have hit a nerve on that and we may actually bring that to a conclusion,” White told council.