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Fair taxes for tenants

Toronto Star, October 23, 2001

Suppose you were at the checkout at a record store with the same collection of CDs as the customer ahead of you - yet the sales clerk charged you four times the sales tax.

Or imagine filling up at the pump and having to pay four times as much tax as other motorists.

It wouldn't be fair, would it? There would be no excuse for such glaring inequities. And yet such discrepancies exist in Toronto's property tax system.

Toronto tenants who live in large apartment buildings are taxed at four times the rate of residents living in single-family homes. But tenants get nothing more for their extra tax dollars. Their tap water tastes no different. The police and fire protection is no better. The recreation services offered by the city are just the same.

In short, there's no justification for the shocking difference in tax rates and city politicians know it. They admit there's a problem. They even acknowledge the need to change. But they show no willingness to begin the changes needed.

It's not hard to understand their reluctance. If taxes go down for tenants, they have to go up for someone else, namely homeowners. For councillors who depend on homeowners for votes far more than they do tenants, that's a tough pill to swallow.

Unfortunately, not many tenants have been pressing council to make the system fair. Because taxes are hidden in their rent, most are unaware the inequity even exists. Councillors have taken advantage of that ignorance to exploit tenants, who are arguably among the poorest residents of the city.

This council cannot keep urging senior governments to take measures to make rents affordable in Toronto while failing to reduce the high tax rate, a move that would lower rents.

The city needs to adopt a strategy to bring down the tax rate for apartment buildings and measures to ensure the savings are passed on to tenants and not pocketed by landlords.

Restoring fairness to Toronto's property tax system will take time. But with councillors poised to begin budget deliberations, the job should start now.

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