Cottagers question taxes, insurance payments during pandemic

taxes Photo by RATTA LAPNAN/Shutterstock

The other night, Trena Debruijn was scrolling through social media when she discovered that a handful of auto insurance companies had started offering rebates to customers working from home, compensating them for the fact that they were no longer driving to work during COVID-19. This got Debruijn thinking about the fees she’s paying for her cottage when she can’t use it during the pandemic.

“Annually, I pay property taxes, I pay marina fees because my cottage is a boating cottage with water access only, I’m paying cottage insurance, and I’m paying boat insurance,” she says. This adds up to approximately $6,200 a year, which Debruijn is still paying despite not being able to access her cottage.

Municipal and provincial governments across the country have asked cottagers to stay home and avoid cottage country. This was reiterated by Ontario Premier Doug Ford during a press conference prior to the Easter long weekend. “Please, this long weekend, do not go to your cottage. We can’t stress that enough,” he said.

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The concern is that an influx of cottagers arriving in cottage country could overwhelm the municipal services. “The hospital that we have here in our area is jammed to capacity right now,” says J. Murray Jones, the Peterborough County warden. “If you get a big influx of people coming to the cottage and something happens, what are they going to do?”

Debruijn recognizes that it is selfish to want to go to the cottage right now, so she’s doing her duty as a good citizen and staying home, but she still doesn’t understand why she’s being forced to pay so many fees—insurance, in particular.

To keep her insurance policy active, Debruijn is expected to visit her cottage every 30 to 60 days. Debruijn’s boat, however, is stored at her local marina, and the marina has been forced to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This means she can’t access her boat or, as a result, her cottage, yet she’s still paying insurance for both. “The whole insurance industry is based on risk,” she says. “If we can’t use our properties, there’s less risk.”

Debruijn also wonders whether cottagers will be offered any tax breaks from their local municipality. With fewer people travelling to the cottage this season, there will be less road maintenance, less waste collection, and fewer hires for summer programs such as camps. “All these costs are included in annual municipal budgets,” Debruijn says, suggesting that some of the excesses in the budget could be used to help cottagers.

But Jones says it’s unlikely there will be any tax breaks as these would have to be applied to everyone. “I could ask for a tax subsidy because I can’t walk the streets like I used to,” he says. “Let’s not go there. Let’s just work together and try to get through this.”

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Jones is clear that he doesn’t want the current situation to impact future relationships between cottagers and municipalities. Peterborough County is following the federal government’s guidelines by limiting travel and promoting social distancing in order to protect the health of its citizens. This doesn’t mean cottagers won’t be welcomed back with open arms once the pandemic has been subsided, Jones says. “[They’re] our lifeblood. The taxes they pay help us with everyday life up here, and we appreciate that. All this is about is saving lives.”

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