Residential Property Appraisal Documents are Owners’ Personal Information

PIPEDA Case Summary #2008-390

[Section 2, Principle 4.9, subsection 9(1), paragraph 9(3)(b)]

Lessons Learned

  • Residential property appraisal documents constitute personal information of the property owner under section 2 of the Act.
  • When responding to access to personal information requests for such documents, financial institutions have the right to sever all non-personal information and all third-party personal information.

The complainant asked his bank for a copy of a residential property appraisal conducted on his property.  The bank refused his request on the grounds that the document was confidential commercial information, rather than his personal information. 

The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) presented its views to this Office on why the banking industry does not consider property appraisals to be personal information under the Act.

Ultimately, the bank provided the complainant with the appraisal document, after severing certain non-personal information.  The Assistant Privacy Commissioner considered the matter resolved.

The following is a detailed overview of the investigation and the Assistant Commissioner’s deliberations.

Summary of Investigation

The complainant submitted a written access request to his bank for a copy of the appraisal that had been conducted on his residential property earlier that year.  The bank refused the request, advising that the appraisal was not his personal information since it was information about the property and not about him.  According to the bank, the document was confidential commercial information.

In responding to this Office, the bank suggested that even if we found the property appraisal document to be personal information, it would still be exempt from access because it was confidential commercial information.

The bank provided our Office with a copy of the appraisal document in its entirety. The complainant was listed as the borrower.

The CBA also presented its perspective on the issue of property appraisals.  It stressed that the banks have significant concerns about residential property appraisals being considered as personal information and thereby being subject to potentially widespread access requests.  It presented the following as industry‑wide views:

  • The information on a property appraisal form relates to the property itself, for example, the address, lot and house size, number of rooms, other buildings, services and amenities, type of construction.  It is a statement about the value of real estate with certain attributes, and is not about the individual.
  • The appraisal contains no information about the current or future owners of the subject property.  Who is living at an address has no bearing on the value of the property, so no personal information is needed on the appraisal form.

In addition, it stated that if an appraisal contained information about similar neighbouring properties, such information would have to be severed before giving the appraisal to a borrower.

Ultimately, the bank wrote to the complainant and provided him with a copy of the appraisal document in question.  The bank severed information that did not qualify as the complainant’s personal information.

Findings

Issued May 7, 2008

Application: Section 2 defines personal information as information about an identifiable individual, but does not include the name, title or business address or telephone number of an employee of an organization.  Principle 4.9 states that, upon request, an individual shall be informed of the existence, use, and disclosure of his or her personal information and shall be given access to that information.  Subsection 9(1) stipulates that despite Principle 4.9, an organization shall not give an individual access to personal information if doing so would likely reveal personal information about a third party.  However, if the information about the third party is severable from the record containing the information about the individual, the organization shall sever the information about the third party before giving the individual access.  Paragraph 9(3)(b) notes that an organization is not required to give access to personal information only if, amongst other exemptions, to do so would reveal confidential commercial information.  The Act also notes that in the circumstances described in 9(3)(b), if giving access to the information would reveal confidential commercial information and that information is severable from the record containing any other information for which access is requested, the organization shall give the individual access after severing.

In making her determinations, the Assistant Privacy Commissioner deliberated as follows:

  • The complainant made a written access request to the bank for what he thought was his personal information.  The bank advised him that it could not provide him with access to the residential property appraisal as it did not consider it to be his personal information.  Rather, the bank viewed it as confidential commercial information and, as such, under paragraph 9(3)(b) of the Act it was not subject to release.
  • The Assistant Commissioner first examined the question of whether the residential property appraisal should be defined as personal information under section 2 of the Act.  After considering both the bank’s views and the CBA’s, as well as this Office’s earlier deliberation on the same question in another finding, the Assistant Commissioner remained of the opinion that, since the property was in the complainant’s name, the information relating to the property, including its market value, was his personal information.  He therefore had a right of access to it.
  • Secondly, the Assistant Commissioner agreed with the bank that some information contained in the appraisal did not qualify as the complainant’s personal information, such as the appraiser’s name and contact information and data concerning other properties.  This was considered to be third party information under subsection 9(1).  Moreover, one page was withheld as it did not contain any of the complainant’s personal information.  She reasoned that the bank had the right to apply exemptions to this document, as outlined in section 9 of the Act.
  • Upon the intervention of this Office, the bank provided the complainant with access to his personal information.  Before sending him a copy of the document, the bank severed all non-personal information.
  • Thus, the Assistant Commissioner was satisfied that the bank gave the complainant the required access to his personal information.

The Assistant Commissioner concluded that the complaint was resolved.

Date modified: