A Langley woman overpaid her property taxes for 19 years and didn’t even know it. That’s because BC Assessment had made a mistake on her Walnut Grove home’s finished square footage, and now her family wants that money back.

Since 1999, Lori Sowerby's mother, Joyce—who recently passed away at age 83—diligently paid her property taxes based on her home’s assessment.

“We get a notice of assessment. We pay those bills," said Sowerby.

But what she didn’t get in the mail was a more detailed description of the property, which included the finished square footage of the house. That information is only available on BC Assessment’s website.

From the outside, you can’t tell what the basement looks like, but when Ross McLaughlin visited the home, the new owner, Jeff Chesterson, invited him in.

"That is not a finished basement," said Chesterson as he pointed out the crawlspace.

The house was built in 1999 and, for 19 years, the taxes were based on a 1,600-sq.-ft. finished basement — not a crawlspace. Chesterson discovered the error after he purchased the home.

“It makes a difference on the taxes?” asked McLaughlin.

“Oh, a huge difference,” Chesterson replied.

“An error was made on this particular property and we’ve done our best to correct that,” said Brian Smith, deputy assessor with BC Assessment Fraser Valley region.

The overpayment came to about $290 on this year’s tax bill, or five per cent.

But what about all those other years?

McLaughlin added it up, and estimated a total of $3,234 in overpayment.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Sowerby, adding that the money should go back to her mother’s estate.

Because of the way the law is written and to keep revenue stable for local governments, BC Assessment says it doesn’t have the ability to compensate homeowners for overpayments dating back more than 12 months. That means the Township of Langley keeps the overpayment money.

And why didn’t Sowerby’s mother see the mistake?

“She had no computer. She was 83 and not going to buy a computer to check the government she believes is charging her correctly for her home,” explained Sowerby.

But if property descriptions were sent in the mail, she believes the problem could have been corrected way back in 1999.

“It may be helpful and something we can take a look at,” said Smith, “At this point in time, we’re definitely encouraging people to use e-valueBC where have all the information on there, or to give us a call if they don’t have access to a computer.”

Ultimately, if a mistake is made on a home’s assessment, it’s up to the homeowner to report it.