Calgary Tax Fighters Guide
Property taxes are a significant cost to owning a home, and no one likes to see their tax bill increase. But did you know that you can dispute your property assessment and have it re-evaluated?
There are many reasons to dispute your City of Calgary Tax Assessment. Maybe you suspect that the assessed value of your property exceeds its true market value. Or you might discover that your neighbours, who live in an identical three bedroom bungalow down the block, are paying less in taxes than you are.
Whatever your reasons for contesting your Calgary Property Tax Assessment, we have compiled a detailed guide to help you through the process below.
How Property Tax Works
The property tax is based on what the government thinks your real property (the buildings and land you own) is worth. The key word here is “thinks”. In principle, it works quite simply:
- Tax Assessors calculate what they think is the fair market value of every property in the municipality. The value of your property is calculated on July 1st of the previous year.
- The municipal government makes up its budget for the year. It divides that budget into the total assessed value of all the properties in the municipality. The result is what is called the “mill rate”. This mill rate is expressed as so many dollars of taxes per year per $1,000 of assessed property value.
- In most places you can appeal the assessed value of your property, but not the property tax itself. Once you have accepted the assessor’s opinion of your property’s assessed value, the calculation of the actual property tax is automatic.
In other words, you can’t appeal your “taxes”. You can only appeal the government’s assessment of your property’s value. If you think the assessment is too high, you have to produce evidence that shows the assessor made a mistake.
Assessment, Mill Rates and Taxes
- Assume your municipality has a budget of $1.5 million this year
- Assume the total assessment of all properties in your municipality is $750 million
- In this case, the mill rate will be $1.5 million divided by $750 million or 20 mills. (In other words, $20 of tax per $1,000 of assessment).
- If your property is assessed at $100,000 then your property tax will be $100,000 times 20 mills per thousand dollars of value, or $2,000 per year.
How Do They Determine “Assessed Value”?
The actual value of buildings and land fluctuates and depends on many factors. In order to estimate a value for tax purposes, the government employs Tax Assessors. These officials produce an “assessment” of the value of your property based upon the price they think your property would fetch if it were sold in the open market at a fair market price.
This doesn’t mean that the Assessor comes out each year and checks your house to see what he thinks it’s worth. Instead, to try and stay current, assessors feed market information into a computer that compares similar properties and calculates a blanket appraisal by a certain date. These mass appraisals are usually done by comparing information about your property to similar properties recently sold in your neighbourhood or town.
In addition to these “mass appraisals”, assessors get information about your property from other government departments. For example, if you apply for a building permit to build a garage, the local government department forwards the details to the assessment authority, who include the value of your new garage when appraising your property’s value. The exact time of year that properties are appraised varies from province to province, and from municipality to municipality.
Important Point To Remember
The process of “mass appraisals” is not an exact science. The government makes mistakes and these mistakes can unfairly increase your taxes. The only way to be sure your assessment is fair is to check into the records.
Why Does the Assessed Value of Your Property Change?
Rising or declining property values in your neighbourhood can have a major effect on your assessment, because assessors look at the sale price of properties like your’s. Another thing that can increase the assessed value of your property (even if neighbourhood property values haven’t changed) is renovations. Renovations, not only to a home but also to other buildings like garages, barns and storage buildings, can make a property more valuable. (In case you wondered, normal residential maintenance—like keeping the grass cut or planting a garden doesn’t increase or decrease the market value significantly.)
Here’s what’s important to remember. The assessed value of your property is a professional opinion based on the expertise of the appraiser and the accuracy of the information on file. Just because an assessor says your property has increased in value doesn’t mean that it is so. Assessment methods can lead to wrong conclusions. (We give you some examples further down).
If Your Assessment Goes Up, Must Your Taxes Go Up?
Not necessarily. Let’s say the municipal government kept it’s spending flat this year. Let’s also assume that everyone in town received a higher property assessment (perhaps a new industry was opening nearby and land prices went up). In a case like this, no one’s taxes would rise, because the mill rate would drop by the same amount as the increase in the overall assessment. In other words, the higher assessment would be cancelled out by a lower mill rate.
Unfortunately, in the real world it seldom works this way. Most of the time, governments don’t hold the line on spending, they increase it. So both the assessment and the mill rate rise. The threat to your interests comes from the fact that your assessment may be unfair compared to other similar taxpayers. In that case, you’ll be charged a higher property tax than you deserve. What you have to focus on is ensuring that your assessment is properly done and fair.
What Can You Do If You Disagree With The Assessment Authority’s Calculation Of Your Property’s Value?
Every property owner has the right to review government records on his or her property and the right to question the assessed value. Assessment authorities are public servants and usually are willing to assist you in making sure your property is accurately and fairly assessed. Before consulting the assessment authority, it’s best to have an understanding of how the process works. Follow the steps outlined in the Assessment.
If You Have Discussed Your Assessment With The Local Assessment Office And Still Disagree With Their Evaluation, What Should You Do?
Merely believing that your taxes are too high is no basis for lowering an assessment value. To successfully appeal an unfairly high assessment, you must present evidence that proves one or more errors in how the appraiser appraised your property. If you have followed the Assessment Appeal Checklist, met the assessor and still disagree with his/her opinion of value, you usually have the right to appeal to a higher authority that is independent of the assessment office.
One Warning. Don’t expect your appeal to be heard quickly. There could be lengthy backlog of appeals already in the system.
What If I Appeal, And They Increase My Assessment?
There’s no guarantee and you have to take the chance. However, the odds are good that it won’t happen. According to a 1992 study done in one province, when people appealed their assessment to the second level of appeal, over 46% of cases received reduced assessments, 50% were unchanged and only 3.5% received a higher assessment. So if you do your homework and you have a strong case, the odds are on your side.
Are There Any Tax Relief Programs Available For Property Owners?
The City of Calgary and Government of Alberta currently offer 2 programs to assist with property taxes.
- Low Income Calgarians, via the Fair Entry program
- Seniors Tax Deferral, via the Government of Alberta
Check with your local assessment office to see whether tax relief is available and whether you qualify for it.
Assessment Appeal Checklist
The key to protecting your interests from the tax man (or tax woman) is to do your homework and document your case properly! Follow these steps and check each one off when you have completed it.
- Read your assessment notice carefully. Compare your assessment to the previous year. Does your new assessment seem fair?
- If you think your assessment is unfair, review this guide for information on how the tax system works. Please note the important deadlines for filing an appeal.
- Visit the assessment authority and review all public records on your property (deed, title, roll and field report cards). Many offices will have a helpful assessment answer book that tells how the process works. Take a few moments to read their suggestions.
- Obtain the facts on the actual sale price of properties like yours. This incudes listings of all properties similar to it that sold in your area recently. If only a few were sold, go back further in time. (We can assist with this, please contact us).
- Review how the tax assessor has described your own property record. Note any blatant inaccuracies. Have they made errors in measuring the size of your lot, or the square footage of living space (or non-living space) in your home? Have they erred in describing any of the features of the property itself—e.g.. Have they said there are two fireplaces when there is only one?
City of Calgary 2022 Annual Assessment Notices are mailed to all registered property and business owners in early January. A Customer Review Period is then held for 60 days following this mailing date, where you can arrange to speak with an assessor regarding any disagreements you may have with your assessed value.
If you still disagree with your assessed value, you may file a formal complaint with the ARB. The deadline for filing a complaint on your annual assessment is the last day of your Customer Review Period shown on your assessment notice. The 2022 Customer Review Period runs from Jan. 5 to March 14, 2022. A formal complaint must be filed prior to the deadline in order for the Board to review your case, even if you are waiting to hear back from your assessor.
To file your complaint, visit the Calgary Assessment Review Board or call 403-268-5858 to speak to a live representative.
- Be prepared to substantiate your claims with proof of property size and if possible, provide pictures, classification of property
- Remember, you have to prove that your home has been given too high an assessment relative to other properties like it. If possible, find several comparable homes that have sold recently in your area and determine their selling price.
- We can help advise you where to obtain the information for your assessment. Or you can hire an independent real estate appraiser for a fee.
Finish assembling your case. Gather copies of all the supporting documents you will need. For example: a copy of your latest tax assessment notice; a copy of your title to the property; a copy of the real estate bill of sale if you purchased your home recently (this is proof of its market value) and copies of comparable sales.
Should I pay my taxes if I have filed an assessment complaint?
Yes. If you have filed a complaint against your assessment you must still pay your taxes by the due date on the bill to avoid a late payment penalty.
If the Assessment Review Board (LARB or CARB) or Court of Queen’s Bench or Municipal Government Board makes a decision on your complaint that results in a lower tax levy, the reduction is credited to the tax account. If this tax reduction results in a credit balance, interest is paid on the municipal portion. A refund cheque is issued for accounts with a credit balance greater than $25. (Credits of less than $25 will remain on the account.)
We are here to help, should you require any assistance with comparable sale documentation, or simply want some advice, please don't hesitate to contact us.
To the best of our knowledge, the information on this page is accurate. We’ve gone to considerable lengths to research this information carefully but the property tax system is complex, so some facts may have slipped through our net. If we have missed something, please let us know.
Information was deemed current for the tax year of 2022. Rules, laws, and regulations change year-to-year. Information is deemed to be correct but not guaranteed.