Victoria homeowners appealing ‘surreal’ property assessments

By
Times Colonist
January 8, 2019





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B.C. homeowners have until Jan. 31 to appeal their property assessments. — ADRIAN LAM

A Victoria homeowner is gearing up for a fight with B.C. Assessment after the property valuation she received in the mail last week “simply did not reflect reality.”

Patricia Leidl said her assessment has increased 85 per cent compared with last year. Her home, assessed last year at $599,000, is now valued at $1.11 million.

“It’s insane. I would love it if it had [appreciated that much] because I’d sell it, but it simply has not ... in fact, it has gone down in value,” she said of the half of a duplex she owns in Fairfield. “Assessments typically are below market value, but this is way above market value.

“It’s come as a tremendous shock.”

Leidl said it’s unlikely she would even get what she paid for the four-bedroom home last year. She believes she likely overpaid for the half duplex — $900,000 at the height of the market in 2018.

“It’s a half duplex in a mediocre building,” she said. “The stand-alones [single-family homes] in the area are assessed at the same value and their assessments have gone up between four and eight per cent. Mine is the only property that has gone up 85 per cent.

“I’m outraged. This is in the realm of the surreal.”

The other half of the duplex, which has five bedrooms, was assessed at $866,000 up from $399,000 last year.

Leidl will be appealing the assessment.

And she won’t be alone. Every year, thousands of residents, most worried their property taxes will be affected by an increased assessment, take their case up with B.C. Assessment. Last year, 25,760 residents appealed. B.C. Assessment does not track how many are successful.

Tina Ireland, Vancouver Island assessor, said typically fewer than two per cent of all property owners appeal their assessments. “In the last 10 years, it’s been closer to one per cent,” she said. In 2018, it amounted to 1.3 per cent.

This year is shaping up to be much like any other year, said Ireland, noting they always field a tonne of calls early in January ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline to file an appeal. The appeal process starts with homeowners checking the B.C. Assessment website (bcassessment.ca), which might provide answers to their questions, and if not they are to contact the authority.

Ireland said many factual errors — size, number of rooms, bathrooms, square footage and the like — can be changed with a phone call, while valuation disagreements tend to carry onto an appeal. That starts with an online form that puts the appeal request into a queue to be heard by an impartial property assessment review panel that meets starting in early February until mid-March.

If not satisfied, property owners can push to be heard by an appeal board that takes more information in a formal setting.

Ireland could not comment on Leidl’s case, but she said there could be several factors at play.

“It could be changes in property inventory, it could be an addition, a renovation or the zoning was changed,” she said. “The ones that go up the most are the ones we will hear from.”

They will also be hearing from Angela Thorneloe. The Thorneloes bought a 13-acre farm in Saanich in November for $1.46 million with the intention of maintaining the property as a farm. It has been farmed for more than 30 years.

But when the previous owners failed to file the correct paperwork with B.C. Assessment this fall, the farm’s status was changed to residential.

The result was an assessment of $2.24 million. Last year it was assessed at $910,508.

“It’s a huge shock. This has never been taxed as a residential property before, it’s always been a farm,” said Thorneloe, who is concerned the money they hoped to use to get their farm up and running will be eaten up by a significantly higher property tax bill this year.

She also noted the loss of farm status has had a knock-on effect as they do not qualify for farm rates on power and other things.

Thorneloe has been told by both the Ministry of Agriculture and B.C. Assessment that they are governed by legislation and there is no other recourse than to appeal their assessment.

“Our first argument will be this is a farm and it is still being farmed and is not residential by any means,” she said. “The second argument will be that it’s definitely not worth $2.2 million.”

She said it has taken a toll and added a new layer of stress to the family. “We are just regular people, we don’t have millions of dollars and we stretched ourselves to buy this,” she said. “For them to say it’s residential is really hard on us. The taxes could be outrageous for us.

“It’s not just that this could have an impact of our taxes but it’s really put a damper on our whole 2019. I also think it goes against the government’s mandate to preserve farmland and make life more affordable for young families.”

James Bambrick said he will be appealing the assessment of his Oak Bay home, which jumped to $1.52 million from $1.44 million.

Bambrick said he bought the house for $1 million and in 2016 it was assessed at $1.2 million.

“That means in three years it’s increased 51 per cent,” he said. “Property taxes have gone up [over that time], but I expect with an increase like this it will be going up a lot.”

Bambrick has already spoken with B.C. Assessment, but was unsatisfied with their response that there were comparable sales in the area that are reflected in his increase.

“I want to take this as far as it can go because a 51 per cent increase in three years is absurd,” he said.


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