A pilot in the Netherlands to better assess property value raises privacy concerns

Some residents of the Netherlands have been asked to take pictures of the inside of their house to better evaluate the property value. A request raising concerns about privacy.

Home interior in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Home interior in Amsterdam, the Netherlands | Illustration, © Christopher Lemercier

On October 7 and 8, the Municipal Tax Office of Twente sent letters in the Hogeland-Velve and Enschede-Zuid districts in the municipality of Enschede that surprised thousands of home owners. They were asked to take interior pictures of their homes, of their living room, kitchen and toilets for instance, and to send them to the municipal tax office by email.

Part of a national pilot, the request is meant to better estimate the property values, the WOZ, the abbreviation of the Dutch property value (Waarde onroerende zaken), which is evaluated annually by municipalities.

Houses, commercial buildings, schools and other public buildings have a property value that is used for central government taxation, such as income and corporate tax, but also for municipalities to determine property tax (OZB) and other local taxes.

Estimates are usually performed with public data, such as the housing market, exterior pictures, date of construction, etc. But this test aims at getting more information about the interior conditions so that the WOZ leads to fewer complaints by homeowners unhappy with the assessment. A newly renovated façade but with an interior in poor condition could for instance have an overestimated WOZ and inflated tax.

But the request raised concerns of residents about respect for their privacy. The Dutch Data Protection Authority spokesperson Caspar Itz told De Telegraaf that such a request should be only allowed in exceptional cases, “if it is strictly necessary” since a look inside your home can provide deeply intimate information about oneself.

The city council of Enschede, a city of 160,000 people in the east of the country, urgently met to deal with the issue as the deadline for submitting pictures was on October 30. Most officials in the Enschede municipality council supported a motion asking to urge the Municipal Tax Office of Twente to stop the test.

The municipality has outsourced management and collection of local tax and doesn’t the hand on operations. Moreover, according to Marc Teutelink, alderman for finance of Enschede and member of the executive board of the municipal tax office, the pilot cannot be stopped all of a sudden. He said that some residents have also provided the information on the phone without sending pictures.

The goal to have a better evaluation of WOZ aims at reducing the number of complaints, which have been on the rise, according to Mr. Teutelink. Homeowners try to change the WOZ with the help of companies promising them lower taxes and which would charge customers only when requests are successful. It also leads to increased costs to deal with complaints.

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