Advertisement

'E' is for error: Telus bid to appeal property assessments foiled by email mishap

Telus wants to appeal property assessments for 18 properties around the Lower Mainland, but its attempt to file paperwork in the case was foiled by a faulty email address. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Telus wants to appeal property assessments for 18 properties around the Lower Mainland, but its attempt to file paperwork in the case was foiled by a faulty email address. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A miscommunication involving an errant "e" could doom telecommunications giant Telus's bid to appeal more than a dozen property assessments.

That's "e" as in email address. "E" as in error.

Telus is heading to B.C. Supreme Court in the hopes of reversing the Property Assessment Appeal Board's refusal to let the company proceed with challenges to the tax status of 18 property assessments despite missing a crucial filing deadline.

The mistake happened when a new employee included an extra "e" in the suffix of the email address greater.vancouver@bcassessment.ca.

According to court documents, the appeal board didn't buy Telus's argument that the failure to file could be attributed to "circumstances beyond its control."

"In these appeals, the error was, with some scrutiny, identifiable ... on documents controlled by [Telus]," the board's Erin Frew wrote.

"Had the [company's] employees reviewed the delivery address, the error in the email address would have been identified in a timely manner and could have been corrected. In other words, these were circumstances that, with reasonable effort could have been avoided and therefore were not circumstances beyond the owner's control."

A new employee

The process of challenging a property assessment in B.C. works through a number of levels. Property owners have until Jan. 31 to file a challenge to the first level of appeal — a Property Assessment Review Panel.

If a property owner doesn't like the review panel's decision, they can then appeal to the Property Assessment Appeal Board. The next level from that point is B.C. Supreme Court.

The email mix-up has brought to light an ongoing battle between Telus, B.C. Assessment and a number of municipalities over potentially lucrative tax revenues.

Fraud Prevention Month takes place every year in March with the goal of protecting Canadians from scams.
Fraud Prevention Month takes place every year in March with the goal of protecting Canadians from scams.

According to documents, a new employee with the Telus property taxation team sent appeals of property assessments to the wrong email address. The company is now headed to B.C. Supreme Court in a bid to overcome a missed deadline. (CBC)

According to court documents, the properties in question are cellular towers to which B.C. Assessment began applying a form of exemption in 2019 that could force Telus to pay property tax as a percentage of gross revenues from wireless customers — as opposed to a rate tied to the assessed value of a property.

The roots of the conflict appear to lie in legislation written when phones operated only through hardwired infrastructure.

B.C.'s Local Government Act sets taxation for utility companies that have cables, towers, poles, wires, transmitters and other "improvements" located in a municipality at one per cent of gross revenues from subscribers.

In a separate court case, the cities of Burnaby, Surrey and Richmond went to B.C. Supreme Court in 2022 arguing that companies like Telus and Rogers should be taxed as utilities because cellular towers do roughly the same job today as wires and cables have for decades.

Telus still has appeals for its cellular towers in front of the assessment board for all years since 2019.

"In January 2023, a new employee ... began working in the property taxation team and assisted with the complaint/appeal process," the appeal board decision says.

"The new employee copied the email address from a prior spreadsheet and sent it. The new employee did not receive any return email that would have indicated it had not been delivered."

And yet, it hadn't.

"In May 2023, [Telus] discovered that instead of sending the notices of complaint to greater.vancouver@bcassessment.ca they used greater.vancouver@bcassessement.ca," the decision says.

'Circumstances beyond the owner's control'

B.C.'s Assessment Act says property owners who miss the filing deadline can still have their appeals heard if they can satisfy the appeal board the failure to file was due to circumstances beyond their control.

The appeal board defines "circumstances beyond the owner's control" as events that were "not created by a lack of diligence or efficiency on the part of the owner ... that could not reasonably have been foreseen ... or that with reasonable efforts ... could not have been avoided."

Some property owners have successfully overcome missed deadlines by showing printed proof of forms submitted online and emails sent to the right addresses — arguing that they looked after their end of the process and couldn't be blamed for a failure to receive.

Telus argued that its mistake was essentially the same kind of situation.

"Telus honestly believed that it had sent the submission email to the correct email address," the company says in an affidavit sworn by Telus's director of taxation.

"Notably, the typographical error in the submission email was not an obvious one: an extra 'e' was included in a lengthy email address that already contained several 'e's."

It's not the first time a company's assessment appeal has fallen prey to typographical torment.

In 2011, Home Depot missed a deadline after sending an appeal to info@bcassessment.ca instead of vss@bcassessment.ca.

And in 2013, Accton Petroleum Sales sent their appeal to the right address, but forgot to include the property the company was hoping to appeal "due to an internal miscommunication."

Last month, Telus went to B.C. Supreme Court to fight the Property Assessment Appeal Board's refusal to overlook the missed deadline.

According to documents filed in the case, the company wants the court to determine if the board misinterpreted or misapplied the Assessment Act in ruling against Telus.

Telus did not return a call for comment.