Once a notice of appeal has been filed, the Board’s Appeals Officer/Clerk will contact the parties by letter to confirm receipt of the notice of appeal. The Appeals Officer/Clerk will contact the parties to set a date for the hearing. The Appeals Officer/Clerk will then send a letter to the parties enclosing a Hearing Order issued by the Board. The Hearing Order sets the date for the hearing as well as the dates for the filing of evidence and documents by the parties.
Prior to the hearing, both the appellant and the Property Valuation Services Corporation ("P.V.S.C.") will be required to file with the Board, and each other, all written evidence or visual evidence upon which they intend to rely at the hearing. Written evidence includes any reports, documents, letters, hard copies of overhead projection sheets, and other data, while visual evidence includes any photographs, maps, audio tapes, videos, charts, models, overlays, and computer generated images. Pursuant to the Hearing Order, an assessor with the P.V.S.C. will usually prepare and file a summary containing information in response to the grounds of appeal raised by the appellant. The P.V.S.C. will provide the appellant with a copy of this document.
In the event either the appellant or the P.V.S.C. want an "expert" to testify, in assessment or appraisal matters, or other fields, he or she must file a curriculum vitae, a report, and any written or visual evidence prepared by the expert in advance of the hearing, as directed by the Board.
Prior to the hearing, the Board may convene a preliminary hearing by telephone to determine issues about procedure with the parties, or to make preliminary rulings on such issues as: whether the grounds of appeal listed in the notice of appeal comply with s. 86(2) of the Assessment Act, whether the grounds of appeal are within the Board's jurisdiction, whether the notice of appeal was filed within the prescribed time, and the admissibility of certain documents at the hearing.
Appeals to the Board are "de novo" hearings, which means that, rather than reviewing the Nova Scotia Assessment Appeal Tribunal decision for errors, the Board holds an entirely new hearing. For this reason, parties should not base their appeal to the Board upon a criticism of how the Nova Scotia Assessment Appeal Tribunal reached its decision, but rather upon why they think the assessment is wrong (or right, as the case may be).
In an appeal under the Assessment Act, the burden of proof rests upon the person filing the appeal to show, on the balance of probabilities, that the assessment is incorrect. Thus, for example, appellant property owners should be prepared to present evidence about why they think their assessments are wrong. This evidence may include information about comparable sales (sales of similar properties) which occurred around the "base date", and appraisal reports. (The "base date" is a date set by the P.V.S.C. under the Assessment Act, which serves as a convenient reference point for comparing property sales - usually set at January 1st two years before the assessment year in question. Typically, sales which occurred within six months either side of that date are also relevant. In areas where few or no sales occurred during that period, sales which have occurred further from the base date may be used.)
Under s. 42 of the Assessment Act, assessment appeals can relate to market value, or uniformity, or both.
Most appeals of assessments by taxpayers focus upon the market value of the property in question. Pursuit of an appeal on the basis of market value requires that the owner of a property assemble information about the market value of the property as of the base date. For a typical residential assessment appeal, this means, in essence, obtaining sale prices (NOT assessments) for similar properties sold reasonably close to the base date.
In practical terms, the most efficient way for an appellant property owner to get the quantity and quality of information needed for a successful appeal is through a report from an appraiser. While it is not a requirement that a taxpayer obtain an appraisal report in order to succeed in an appeal, such reports may provide evidence which may be of great assistance to the taxpayer. Appraisal reports on residential market value, prepared by qualified appraisers (with the designation AACI or CRA) or local realtors, are, in general, available for an average house for a relatively low cost (not counting any fees payable to an appraiser for appearing at a hearing). Such reports usually contain detailed base date information respecting comparable sales, which can be of considerable relevance in establishing market value.
Appellants considering an appeal based on a claimed lack of uniformity should give particular consideration to retaining an appraiser, and should, in any event, carefully review the related case law. "Uniformity" has been interpreted by the courts as relating to the municipality as a whole, not to neighbouring properties. Thus, even if it can be shown that neighbouring properties have been assessed lower in relation to their actual cash value than the property under appeal, this would not permit the Board to reduce the assessment. Although not commonly done, appraisers' reports can, in addition to giving an opinion on market value, include evidence respecting uniformity, but this will involve a higher cost for the appraiser.
The hearing is normally held in the Municipality where the appeal arises. In HRM, the hearings are held in the NSUARB hearing room at Lower Water Street in Halifax, while appeals outside HRM are usually heard in municipal council chambers or other rooms within the municipal building.
Parties are not required to be represented by legal counsel at the hearing, but they are free to do so. The P.V.S.C. is usually represented by an assessor familiar with the property under review. While municipalities are entitled to participate in an appeal, they rarely do so.
At the hearing itself, the Board member opens the hearing by briefly describing the appeal and then asking the parties to identify themselves. The Board's hearings are all recorded electronically by a recording clerk who sits near the Board member hearing the appeal. The recording clerk is also responsible for handling the exhibits discussed during the hearing.
Before any evidence is presented, the Board member will allow the parties to make brief opening statements, if they wish, outlining the issues and evidence which they intend to address in the evidence they will present.
During the hearing, a party presents evidence through the testimony of its witnesses. When a witness is called to give evidence, he or she is first sworn in or affirmed (whichever their preference) to testify. The witness should then be introduced to the Board, giving his or her name, the community in which he or she resides, and his or her relationship to the appeal (e.g., the property owner or an appraiser or another occupation or position related to an aspect of the matter).
The witness first answers questions asked by the party who has called him or her to testify. When that party has finished asking questions, the other party (or its lawyer) has the right to cross-examine that witness. After cross-examination, the Board may ask additional questions of the witness. Finally, the party who originally called the witness may re-examine the witness. Re-examination is usually very limited and is only permitted to clarify points brought out during cross-examination or in questions from the Board member. The entire process is repeated for each witness.
The appellant is the first party to present evidence at the hearing, followed by the respondent, who is usually the P.V.S.C.. The P.V.S.C. will typically call an assessor as a witness, asking the Board to qualify him or her to testify as an "expert" in assessment or appraisal matters. The Board determines whether a witness is entitled to provide opinion evidence as an expert. In presenting its case initially, the appellant may wish to call an expert of its own (i.e., an appraiser), subject to the Board's approval of the witness' qualification.
All evidence and argument at the hearing must be limited to the issue under review in the appeal.
Most assessment appeal hearings are completed within three hours, but some appeals, especially commercial ones, can take longer. At the conclusion of the presentation of evidence at the hearing, the Board allows each party the chance to make oral submissions to summarize their position, including their view of the evidence, highlighting any past Court or Board cases, or any provision of the Act, which they believe is relevant to their position. In matters involving complex legal issues or voluminous evidence (usually limited to commercial appeals), the Board may request written submissions following the hearing.
The Board issues a written decision following the hearing. Past assessment decisions of the Board can be accessed through the Decision Archive section.