The Property Assessment Appeal Board (the Board) now has an Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) service and a Solution Explorer that assists in resolving residential appeals.
The team at the Board has incorporated online dispute resolution as one of the tools it’s using to resolve appeals with alternate dispute resolution. It was the first administrative tribunal to do so in Canada. The Board partnered with the Justice Education Society of BC to develop the current ODR service for self-represented residential property owners.
Here is how it works: the parties log onto a web-based platform to submit their issues and documents online and have settlement discussions; a board facilitator is appointed to assist in the settlement. If the parties cannot settle, they proceed to written submissions where a different board member will decide the appeal and issue a written decision. At this point, the appeal ends. The whole, online process is complemented by the ODR Solution Explorer, which runs in tandem.
The ODR Solution Explorer compliments and supports the ODR service. It is a hybrid between an interactive guide and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage. It is built to address patterns that the Board noticed after years of experience with these issues and to resolve concerns prior to filing an appeal with the Board
A section of the Explorer is dedicated to walking users through the steps of the ODR process and gives users a number of FAQs specifically related to the process. There are sections that address issues such as: “Help me understand the appeal issues” and “Do I have a strong case?”
The Explorer can also help a user determine if they have a proper issue, but it can assist them in strengthening their case by suggesting the type of evidence they may wish to provide. For example, owners often use percentage increases of their assessments as evidence for an appeal; however, this is something that is actually not relevant to the Board’s determination of a property’s market value. The Explorer’s targeted questions provide users detailed answers such as how percentage increase is not typically considered relevant in determining market value. This saves time for both the user and the Board itself.
Since the ODR service and Explorer were created, there has been positive feedback — more people have been using the ODR service, and survey results have been positive. Due to a lack of resources, the Board is not currently tracking user engagement with the Explorer, but hopes to in the future. Despite its current success, there were some obstacles in the development process.
The Board has a small staff. They handle all residential and commercial property assessment appeals, which have both been increasing over the years; and for every appeal that comes before them, they engage with the appellant and BC Assessment to discuss various alternative dispute resolution processes so that adjudication is the last resort. The staff is also the group tasked to recognize, develop and implement process improvements in a cost-effective manner. Despite the allure of maintaining the status quo, the Board has made significant improvements for its users, and they will continue to do so.
In 2018, the Board moved away from their initial ODR service provider (who had developed for eCommerce companies such as eBay) and partnered with the Justice Education Society to launch a new and improved ODR package. The Board is currently working with the Justice Education Society to add online adjudication to the ODR platform. Further, The Board intends to expand the ODR platform to serve self-represented commercial property owners as well, though commercial property appeals are significantly more complex.
For the Explorer, in 2019, the multi-media Solution Explorer introduced videos in three other languages (Punjabi, Mandarin, and Cantonese) for guiding users. For future improvements, the Board is looking at making the text multilingual as well. Furthermore, they hope to gather better statistics on user engagement with the Explorer.
As shown by the Board’s decades of continuous improvement and history of innovation, however, they are willing to tackle any challenge head-on.