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Americans should be exempt from Canada's foreign housing tax, members of Congress say

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly in Ottawa on October 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Blair Gable - POOL

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is urging the State Department to ask that Americans be exempted from Canada's tax on foreign property owners.

The group has written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to complain that Ottawa is unfairly punishing U.S. citizens who own vacation properties north of the border. 

The so-called underused housing tax took effect at the start of the year to discourage foreign real estate speculators from driving up housing prices. 

But 11 members of Congress from six different states — Democrats and Republicans alike — say it's unjust to require U.S. cottage owners to pay the one per cent levy.

They want Blinken to formally register U.S. opposition to the measure and to work towards winning an exemption for Americans with seasonal properties. 

The restrictions are aimed primarily at properties in more populated areas, which often means that more remote locations like cottages are not exempt. 

The tax "is unfairly impacting Americans who own property in Canada and putting the strong bond between our countries in jeopardy," reads the letter to Blinken released Friday.

"We request that you work with your counterparts in the government of Canada to find a solution to exempt Americans from this tax." 

Signatories include lawmakers from both sides of the aisle from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Florida and South Carolina. 

The campaign is being led by Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), a frequent crusader for streamlined travel across the shared land border, who says many of his constituents have owned property in Canada for years.

"The underused housing tax is an insulting and unjustified attack on these Americans who use these properties not as a prospective investment but as a second home," Higgins said in a statement. 

"The tax shouldn't be imposed on Americans. It sets a dangerous precedent for actions that damage a robust binational exchange."

Republican counterpart Rep. Claudia Tenney called the tax a "poorly conceived" and "unfair and unjust" measure that will drive a wedge between Canada and the U.S. 

"I join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in urging the secretary of state to work with the Canadian government to rectify this misguided policy."

The federal government granted an extension — Oct. 31, instead of the usual April 30 due date — to give people more time to determine if their properties are eligible. Penalties for late payment range between $5,000 and $10,000. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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