Montreal churches fear stricter taxation after visits from inspectors

“I know of at least 15 to 20 congregations who are actively looking for worship space,” Rev. Joël Coppieters says, “but they can’t get in there quickly enough to beat the developers.”
Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

Churches in Montreal are reporting being saddled with unwarranted municipal tax bills that could jeopardize their ability to host community groups and leave their heritage properties vulnerable to real estate developers.

Generally exempt from municipal tax bills under provincial law, some churches are reporting the city has recently become more strict in its interpretation of the regulations in order to extract tax revenue.

The city has responded that it is merely ensuring no one is defrauding the system. Rev. Joël Coppieters of the Côte des Neiges Presbyterian Church cited a $3,800 tax bill for 2015 for the minister’s residence attached to the Chambit Presbyterian Church in Snowdon. Manses are generally exempt, but the city’s tax exemption office said Chambit was charged because it had been unoccupied for almost a year while the church was waiting for a replacement minister.

In addition, representatives from the exemptions office have been systematically visiting churches, taking pictures of all the rooms and making a list of how each space is used. Only those used for public worship, like Bible studies or Sunday school classes, will be exempt, churches were told. Rooms lent out to community groups and activities are not exempt, and churches will be taxed accordingly. Coppieters said he has heard similar stories from fellow congregations, who are expecting tax bills. He has not heard whether synagogues or mosques are receiving similar visits. 

“Rooms in our churches that have historically been lent out, usually at very little cost, to Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, food banks, AA recovery groups, etc.,” now put churches at risk of losing exemptions on those parts of the building, he said.

“Our take is simple,” said…

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