Ex-Vancouver City staffer speaks out over “Stalin-era style” housing audit

A former City of Vancouver employee is condemning his previous employer over the Empty Homes Tax audit process, saying it was a “brutal probe on my personal privacy.”

Kareem Allam, the former Chief of Staff to Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, took to social media to express his reaction after he was notified that he and his wife had to prove their residency at their long-time home after the City launched an audit after they submitted their declaration. All homeowners must do this to avoid paying the 3% tax.

“Follow me for this journey as I work to prove I’ve lived in the same home for 15yrs. I live in the same building as the former mayor and ran the campaign for current mayor,” his thread on X begins in part.

He says the City told them they needed to provide additional information and that those documents needed to match the people who live in the home. The issue is that his wife put down her legal name instead of her maiden name on the declaration, which is what was used when they bought the home years ago, and now they have a paper trail nightmare.

A photo of a drawing of the Empty Homes Tax reminder from the City of Vancouver.

Facebook/City of Vancouver

The bills are under her husband’s name, as is the CRA form.

So, to prove who she was and that they lived together, he says the City is forcing them to provide their marriage certificate, something Allam did not take sitting down.

“Is it constitutionally essential to prove my residency by sharing my marriage certificate with a municipality?” he asked online, in what the former Chief of Staff called a “Stalin-era style probe.”

How do you prove you live in your home?

In an interview with Daily Hive, Allam says not only is this an overstep, but their marriage certificate proves nothing about whether they actually live there or not.

“None of that proves residency,” he said. “Absolutely nuts, all this stuff that’s going on.”

He said the Province, through its Speculation and Vacancy Tax, doesn’t ask nearly as many questions, and he has real concerns about what the City does with that information.

“ICBC, I give them my address. They don’t double-check. They just put your address down on your driver’s license. To get on the voter’s list, I just swear a statutory declaration that I live at this address, and that seems to be good enough for Elections Canada. But for some reason, it’s not good enough for the City of Vancouver, and to me, there’s just something wrong here with how intrusive this is,” he said.

“They’re not entitled to know how much income is; they’re not entitled to know any of these things at all; it’s a huge invasion of privacy,” he said.

Since he went public with his experience, he’s received hundreds of responses from friends and even other government employees stating that they’ve also experienced a nightmare dealing with this process.

fee hikes

Vancouver City Hall (Shawn.ccf/Shutterstock)

“People who used to work for the premier of British Columbia calling me and telling me they’ve been living this two-year nightmare just finally to get a resolution on this, and they are spending thousands of dollars on lawyers’ fees, normally on their own personal time, to try to rectify it,” he said.

Many of his friends say their parents, who don’t speak English, see additional barriers to the process as they are also left in document hell trying to navigate a system that he says isn’t inclusive to all.

“I’ve lost count, the number has just gotten so big,” he said about the overwhelming response he’s received.

The City of Vancouver responds

The City of Vancouver said this process is in line with provincial and federal tax programs.

“As per section 5.4 of the Vacancy Tax Bylaw, the City is authorized to request evidence to validate the accuracy of property status declarations made by owners. If selected for audit, owners have 34 days to provide evidence, details of which are communicated to them in their audit letter. Owners can contact the City should they require assistance with this process or in meeting the deadline,” the City of Vancouver said.

Regarding the privacy concerns raised, the City adds that all information is handled and protected and is only used for the purpose of subject property.

Vancouver's Empty Homes Tax rate should not be changed: City staff

Aerial of central Vancouver. (Google Maps)

“For the EHT program, the City does not conduct in-person property visits to verify occupancy status,” it explained.

Despite many online calls for the process to be made simpler and remove the need for Vancouver homeowners to do two declarations — one for the City and one for the Province — the City of Vancouver said that’s not possible.

“The EHT is separate from the BC Government’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax, and due to privacy limitations, information is not shared between the two,” it said.