Real Property Appraisals are “Personal Information” Subject to PIPEDA

In a recent matter before the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the issue was whether residential property appraisal documents are considered to be the “personal information” of the property owners, and therefore subject to the strictures of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).   A related question was whether the release of a property appraisal was mandatory when requested by the owners themselves.
An individual had asked his bank for a copy of a residential property appraisal that had been conducted on his property.  The bank refused his request:  it did not consider the document to contain “personal information” under PIPEDA because it was information not about the owner, but about the property itself (i.e. information such as address, lot and house size, number of rooms, other buildings, services and amenities, and type of construction).  In the bank’s view, precisely who was living in the house was irrelevant to its value; the appraisal form could be completed without adding any personal information about the owner whatsoever, and was simply a statement about the value of real estate with certain attributes.   The bank concluded, however, that the appraisal constituted “confidential commercial information”, so it declined to release it pursuant to the PIPEDA provisions which govern such documents.
The Privacy Commissioner disagreed with the bank’s assessment.  It held that because the property was in the individual owner’s name, the information in the appraisal relating to that property (including its market value) was his personal information and therefore the bank was subject to PIPEDA requirements in connection with it.
This being the case, the Privacy Commissioner went on to conclude that the individual had the right to gain access to the appraisal containing his personal information.    
However, access by the individual was not unrestricted.  The Privacy Commissioner went on to clarify that not all the information in the appraisal was personal to the individual:  certain information such as the appraiser’s name and contact information, plus data about other neighbouring properties, was considered third-party information which was subject to different treatment under PIPEDA.  This being the case, the bank had the right to apply exemptions to certain portions of the appraisal document itself, and to sever the non-personal information where appropriate.
In the end, the Privacy Commissioner held that:

The full summary of this decision is found on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada website at: