What are property taxes?

Updated September 9, 2022

In the world of real estate, property taxes are pretty much unavoidable. Whether you own a detached house, a condo, a townhouse, or a cabin, chances are you’re used to paying property taxes to some entity or another. But where does all that money go?

If you’re wondering about the ins and outs of property taxes, look no further—we’re here to explain it all.

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What is a property tax?

Property taxes are an annual sum that all homeowners in Canada have to pay.

Municipalities (towns, cities, villages, and so on) collect property taxes. They use these taxes to fund local services, facilities, and programs. Among many other things, property taxes help pay for:

  • City planning
  • Road maintenance
  • Fire protection
  • Trash and recycling collection
  • Recreation centres
  • Parks
  • Libraries
  • Schools
  • Water and wastewater distribution

Property taxes are the main source of revenue for cities and towns; they don’t get the same slice of income tax revenue that the federal and provincial governments get.

One thing to note: property taxes are different from property transfer taxes. Property transfer taxes (a.k.a. land transfer taxes) are a one-time tax levied each time a property changes hands.

How are property taxes calculated?

Calculating property taxes is straightforward. Generally speaking, all you need to do is find the tax rate that applies to the property in question, and multiply it by the assessed value of that property.

So, the first step is figuring out your property tax rate. This, too, is relatively easy. Property taxes are set by each municipality in Canada. For that reason, they vary widely from city to city.

For example, Vancouver has some of the lowest property taxes in Canada, while Saint John has some of the highest.

To find your local property tax rates, check the website for your municipal government. There are also online property tax calculators you can use.

If you live in an unincorporated area (as in, not part of a town or city), you still pay property taxes. Instead of paying a municipal government, though, you pay your taxes to a regional district or directly to the provincial government.

Once you know the tax rate, the next step is learning your property value. Property taxes are based on the official assessed value of your property.

Every property owner in Canada receives an assessment notice, usually once each year. Each province has its own organization that assesses property values. For example, BC has BC Assessment while Ontario has the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.

Property assessments are estimations of the market value of a piece of real estate. There are many factors involved in assessing the value of a home: the sale price of similar homes in the area, the square footage, the number of bedrooms, the age, and so on.

So, with your property assessment in hand, and knowledge of your city’s property tax rates, you can calculate the amount of property tax you’ll owe annually—just multiply one number by the other:

Assessed value x Property tax rate = Property taxes owed

For example, let’s say you receive an assessment notice that says your home is worth $500,000. Your local property tax rate is 0.0094. The calculation would look like so:

$500,000 x 0.0094 = $4,700

In this example, you’d owe $4,700 in property taxes for the year. Depending on where you live, you may pay this all at once, or in several installments throughout the year.

Appealing your assessment

If you receive your annual assessment notice and you don’t agree with it, you can file an appeal with your provincial assessment authority. After all, if your assessment is higher than it should be, you’ll have to pay more property taxes than necessary.

Typically, the appeal process involves submitting a form, followed by a hearing. The hearing process varies by province, but it’s usually held via teleconference with a board of several representatives of the assessment organization.

For more information on property assessment appeals in your province, visit these links:

In Quebec, property assessments are the responsibility of each municipality. If you wish to dispute your property’s assessed value, you need to get in contact with your local authority.

Property tax certificates

Often, you don’t even need to calculate property taxes yourself; you can find the information on a property tax certificate. Property tax certificates state the registered owner of the property, as well as their property tax amount, current taxes owing, and other information.

Property tax certificates are normally part of the due diligence phase of a real estate transaction. The buyer of the property needs to know that they’re not inheriting a massive tax debt, and that the seller actually owns the home—things of that nature.

Property tax certificates are easy to obtain:

Visit the website for the municipality in which the property is located. Usually, you can request a property tax certificate online, and they’ll send it to you in short order via email or download. There’s typically a fee associated, though.

It only takes 5 minutes

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How often do you pay property taxes?

Property taxes are calculated annually, but not always paid annually. Since each town and city is free to set their own rules regarding property taxes, you’ll find many different situations across Canada.

Often, you will need to pay your property taxes just once each year. This is the case, for example, in Calgary (and many other cities).

Other cities bill property taxes multiple times each year. While the total owed is still based on a yearly calculation, you’ll need to send payment more than once each year. For example, Vancouver property taxes are due twice each year. In Toronto, property taxes are normally paid three times annually. But, the city also offers installment plans in which owners can choose to pay twice, six times, or 11 times throughout the year.

Deferring property taxes

Some jurisdictions offer programs that allow residents to defer their property taxes—that is, to pay them at a later date.

Most of these programs are available only to seniors, persons with disabilities, or low-income individuals. Most provinces offer a provincial property tax deferral program, and some municipalities offer their own programs, too.

Usually, property tax deferrals come in the form of a low-interest loan.

Here are links for more information about some of the provincial tax deferral options:

  • British Columbia has a property tax deferral program available to those 55 or older, surviving spouses, and persons with disabilities.
  • Alberta‘s program is a repayable loan, available to those 65 and older who have at least 25% equity in their home.
  • Saskatchewan offers a repayable loan to applicants 65 and older with household income lower than $70,000 annually. This program only defers the education portion of property taxes.
  • Manitoba has The Seniors Property Tax Deferment Act, which allows the government to offer a loan to persons 60 and older to cover their property taxes.
  • Ontario offers a partial deferral of property taxes to low-income persons and seniors 65 and older, but only for those who live on unincorporated land. Municipalities like Ottawa and Toronto offer their own deferral programs to residents.

To find municipal property tax deferral programs available to you, check your home city’s website.

Do you pay property tax on condos?

Condo owners do need to pay property taxes.

While condos are different from detached homes in many ways, property taxes are one thing they all have in common. Since condos are still a form of real estate, condo owners owe property taxes just as detached homeowners do.

In fact, there are normally no differences in property taxes between condos and houses: same rates and same due dates. Of course, some cities may treat condos differently; make sure you look up the property tax rules for your home city.

Contrary to popular belief, property taxes are not part of condo fees. Condo fees go to the property’s managing corporation, while property taxes go to the local government.

Property tax rebates, grants, and credits

Many jurisdictions offer various programs that reduce residents’ property taxes, or refund some of the money they pay. Most of these programs have a few conditions, meaning that not everyone is eligible.

As with everything else relating to property taxes, these programs exist at both provincial and municipal levels—so there are different options available depending on where you live

The majority of property tax rebates are offered by municipalities, so be sure to check what’s available in your city. But, here are a few of the provincial programs available:

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