What is the B.C. Land Owner Transparency Registry?
The first of its kind in Canada, British Columbia’s Land Owner Transparency Registry (“the Registry”) will record information about individuals who are deemed to have an indirect interest in land. The Registry, as set out in the Land Owner Transparency Act (“the Act”), is part of the province’s comprehensive plan to eliminate hidden ownership of real estate in B.C.
British Columbia’s current land title system requires only the legal owner of the land to be registered on title of the property. While most properties in B.C. are owned by individuals, either on their own or jointly with another individual; companies, trusts, and partnerships can be registered as owners of a property without having to disclose any information about the individuals who own or control those entities.
Finance Minister Carole James says she was motivated to bring in the legislation and Registry after seeing people use numbered companies, trusts, and partnerships to conceal who really owned a property. According to a 2016 report by Transparency International Canada, close to one-third of the 100 most valuable residential properties in Greater Vancouver are owned by companies. The high cost of real estate in B.C. and especially so in the lower mainland, along with the ability to conceal beneficial owners makes real estate transactions an attractive option for money laundering.
The Act will require relevant corporations, trusts, and partnerships (each “a reporting body”) that already own land to disclose the beneficial owners of those properties through disclosure reports. All applications received by Land Title and Survey Authority of B.C. (“LTSA”) to change property ownership will require a transfer declaration indicating if an ownership interest in the land will be in the name of a reporting body and if so, a disclosure report will be required. There are stiff penalties for non-compliance with fines up to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for companies, directors and officers, if reasonable efforts are not made to identify significant individuals so that an accurate and current Registry is maintained. Failing to file a declaration and, if required, a disclosure report, will result in the LTSA refusing to register an ownership interest in the land.
The Registry will make beneficial owners’ information available to the public and will support tax authorities, law enforcement agencies, and relevant regulators to identify and combat fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.
The LTSA is responsible for developing and operating the Registry and has advised that the launch of the Registry has been delayed until Fall 2020 as it is dependent upon the Act being brought into force by the legislature and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes to the Province’s legislative calendar.
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