Can the Government Seize My Home? and Other Property Assessment and Tax Questions

Michelle Hopkins
January 1, 2014

Many British Columbians dread the day the property assessment arrives in the mailbox. It means the municipal tax notice will soon follow, and if the assessment has gone up, the taxes probably will, too.

One long-time Prince George farmer saw his property assessment tax bill go from roughly $2,000 in 2011 to nearly $17,000 in 2013. He appealed the whopping increase and lost, though he did receive a small cut in his bill. He argued unsuccessfully that the properties sold for larger prices were located in areas zoned for industrial use, whereas his was still locked in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

"It's a very complicated case, and although he lost, our department is still reviewing the issue," says Brian Currie, manager for Property Assessment Services, Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

This is one of nearly 20,000 complaints that Property Assessment Services receives each year."From those, about 2,000 to 3,000 go to the appeal board," says Currie. "Some do win, but it depends on the evidence put forward and how well prepared a home owner is."

Here's a quick FAQ on property assessment and taxation in BC.

How does my assessment relate to my property taxes?

Property taxation is done separately and independently by local taxing authorities such as municipalities. BC Assessment's role is to prepare an annual roll of all property values.

"We then provide this roll to the taxing authorities for the purposes of preparing their budgets, tax rates, tax distribution and property tax notices," says Tim Morrison, senior communications advisor, BC Assessment.

How is my assessment calculated?

Your property is assessed according to its value on July 1 of the previous year.

To establish the market value, BC Assessment looks at a number of components in the same way a prospective home buyer looks at the size, layout, shape, age, finish, quality, number of carports, garages, sun decks of a home. Location, views, available services and the neighbourhood itself also influence your property's assessed value.

BC Assessment appraisers analyze all sales in your area and develop common comparisons and equivalent values. After reviewing similarities and differences between properties, they arrive at a specific assessed value for each property.

Will someone inspect my home?

An appraiser has the right to enter your home to conduct property inspections to ensure that the description and condition of a property is correct on your Property Assessment Notice, but that seldom happens.

"Technically an appraiser is allowed into your home, but if a property owner is very resistant they don't push the point," says Brian Currie. "BC Assessment very rarely goes into people's homes. Perhaps if a property is under appeal or a real change has occurred on the property, such as major renovations or a new, expensive deck, they might conduct an inspection. Again, it's very rare."

It's more likely that BC Assessment will use a street-level camera system, like Google Maps, to check out a property for any changes. However, there are many privacy issues they must adhere to.

What if I don't agree with my assessment?

You have the right to appeal that assessment by a deadline of January 31. There are four basic steps in the assessment appeal process.

  1. Contact BC Assessment to discuss the particulars of your assessment and learn how the current assessment was arrived at.
  2. If you are not satisfied with what transpires in the conversation, then your next step is to file a complaint with the Property Assessment Review Panel by January 31. The information on filing a complaint is included on the Assessment Notice.
  3. After you receive the panel's decision and you still aren't satisfied, an appeal can be made to the Property Assessment Appeal Board. The board will facilitate discussions between you, the property owner, and BC Assessment. The Board can then proceed with more formal written submissions or in some cases with an in-person hearing."The Panel and the Board processes depend on evidence so it is necessary that the property owner prepare for either process," says Currie.
  4. If you are still dissatisfied with the Board decision, an appeal can be made to the BC Supreme Court on matters of law only. Ultimately appeals could be made all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada; however cases rarely reach this stage.

Most residential appeals are settled within the year.

What if I can't pay my property tax?

"If a property owner has any issues with property taxes, that is a matter strictly between the property owner and the taxing authority (i.e., municipality)," says Tim Morrison. "In addition to home owner grants, the provincial government has some property tax deferment programs for those who are having a hard time paying."

According to the BC government's website, once you've received your property tax notice and you don't have the funds to pay it, you can submit an application to defer your property taxes. If your application is approved, the provincial government will pay your current year's unpaid property taxes on your behalf. You can only defer the portion of your residential ( class 1) or residential and farm ( class 1 and 9) property taxes after the home owner grant is deducted. If you qualify for the home owner grant, you must apply for it annually before the property tax deadline.

"The government holds a lien on your property for the taxes they pay on your behalf and that lien stays on your property until the full balance owing has been paid," adds Currie.

Can the government seize my home?

The short answer is, yes.

"If you don't pay for two years, the city has the right to sell your home for back taxes due," says Currie. "However, if your home sells, the title doesn't change until the end of the year. That gives the home owner one more opportunity to pay the back taxes, plus a few costs incurred to sell it, and get their home back.

"Typically, every October local newspapers will advertise a list of foreclosures (due to non-payment of property taxes) up for sale."

This is done at a municipal level and the same set of rules applies to all cities.

Bargains? Possibly, but Currie says, "If a bank has a mortgage on the property, they usually will buy the home and sell it themselves to recoup for the outstanding mortgage amount."

Helpful resources

Property tax deferment programs

BC Assessment's responsibilities and how assessments are calculated

The Property Assessment Review Panel complaint and appeal process

The Property Assessment Appeal Board appeal process and access to appeal decisions

See also:

What's the Real Value of Your Home?

Michelle Hopkins
Michelle Hopkins is a Vancouver-based freelance writer with extensive magazine, newspaper and online writing experience in home décor, new home developments, culinary adventures, wine, travel and more. Michelle writes for many notable publications including Real Estate Weekly and other Glacier Media Group publications, Western Living Magazine, Vancouver Magazine, Home Décor & Renovations, to name just a few. Michelle is passionate about anything to do with real estate.