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British Columbia becomes first provincial government to introduce property registry legislation

Tuesday, 16 April, 2019

On April 2, 2019, the British Columbia (BC) provincial government became the first in Canada to introduce property registry legislation, with the aim of increasing transparency around beneficial ownership and cracking down on money laundering and tax evasion.

The BC NDP government tabled the Landowner Transparency Act at the beginning of the month. If passed, it will establish a public register of beneficial owners of property in the province.

Corporations, trusts and partnerships that currently own or buy land will be required to disclose their beneficial owners in the registry, and those that fail to do so could face fines of up to CAD100,000 or 15 percent of the assessed property value (whichever is greater).

The information will be publically available, while tax authorities and regulators will be able to access more detailed information as part of the countrywide fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

BC Finance Minister Carole James said of the legislation: “This registry will make information about the true owners of BC real estate publicly available and help crack down on illegal activities. It is one of the key steps our government is taking to ensure homes in BC are used for people, not for speculative investment or money laundering.”

Nancy Merrill, President of the Law Society of BC, praised the move, saying: “This ground-breaking move will increase the transparency of land ownership in BC and make it more difficult to use such arrangements for tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. British Columbians will benefit from a fairer and more transparent real estate market.”

The legislation comes as various real estate organisations in the province have suggested that all real estate professionals undergo “mandatory anti-money laundering education,” to help tackle the issue of money laundering in the sector.

BC’s move is the first of its kind, although last month the Québec government issued a draft regulation under which non-resident purchasers of residential properties will be identified in the province’s land registry. Canada’s 2019 federal budget has also promised more widely to focus on tax non-compliance in the country, making specific reference to the issues in the real estate market.

If the legislation is passed, BC’s property register will become operational on the date that the Act comes into force in 2020.