Your home may be your castle — but if the city assessor comes knocking, the city wants the drawbridge down and the gates open.
And while the City of St. John’s thinks that’s no big deal — Coun. Danny Breen says it’s basically business as usual — there are plenty of people who don’t agree.
The Supreme Court of Canada has been pretty clear that even walking into someone’s yard requires a warrant. Consider this, from R. vs Riley in 1993.
“Two officers went to determine the exact location of the reported residence. They entered onto the property and noted vents on the outside of the house with condensation on them and the smell of fresh marihuana emanating from them. … The warrantless perimeter search of the accused’s residence was unreasonable and therefore in violation of (Section) 8 of the Charter. A warrantless search, to be reasonable, must be authorized by law.”
Or, the court’s verdict in R. vs Feeney in 1997: “In general, the privacy interest now outweighs the interest of the police, and warrantless arrests in dwelling houses are prohibited.”
Those cases involved a hydroponic marijuana grow-op and a murder investigation, far more serious issues than the city’s concerns about whether you have a finished rec room downstairs that they can tax you for.
Section 7 of this province’s Assessment Act does, in fact, let the assessor in: “An assessor or a commissioner may, at reasonable times, without a warrant, enter real property for the purpose of carrying out a duty imposed on the assessor or commissioner by this Act and a person shall not refuse entry to the assessor or commissioner.”
What hasn’t been mentioned by Breen or anyone else is that the Act’s powers go much further than that. Try Section 8, which says a property owner “shall provide to the assessor on demand conveyances, leases, assignments, appraisals and other deeds and documents and books, accounts, vouchers and insurance policies in his or her possession or control that the assessor may require for the purpose of valuing that real property for taxation.”
Tenants can be forced to outline what they pay their landlords, and what it is they’re paying for.
Municipalities argue they need that kind of power to make sure that the city is aware of changes inside a property.
The problem is, the same Act already requires you to report those changes, even without the inspection.
“23. (1) A person who … alters, erects, constructs, extends, enlarges or makes an addition to real property … shall, within 30 days from the day on which the person completed altering, erecting, constructing, extending, enlarging or making an addition to real property, or started or resumed a business, give written notice to the clerk setting out the address of that real property or business. (2) The clerk shall notify the assessor, who shall, upon receipt of a notice under subsection (1) or on his or her own initiative where no notice is received by him or her, assess the real property described in subsection (1).”
There’s a growing battle in this country over new laws allowing police warrantless access to your computer traffic, so no one should be surprised that there’s an uproar over the city wanting to take pictures of the inside of your house and store them in its own database.
Here’s another question: assessments are supposed to be equal, but assessors won’t be asking to go into every house. So what exactly ensures that the assessment process is fair and equal?
Perhaps cities and town should stick to assessing the outside of castles.