Legal vs. Beneficial Ownership: British Columbia’s New Registry
Any estate litigator will tell you that many of the cases that we deal with on a daily bases involve disputes regarding the beneficial ownership of assets, being jointly held assets or assets that are wholly owned by one party and alleged to be beneficially owned by another.
For reference, legal ownership or legal title refers to property held in the name of a person or persons. In contrast, beneficial ownership is what is referred to as “actual” ownership even though the property is registered in someone else’s name.
Without a clear trust agreement, it is often very difficult to argue that beneficial ownership exists and the parties to the dispute will resort to arguments over things like, who is paying taxes for the property, who is collecting rental income and other evidence that relates to the parties’ intention.
The Province of British Columbia appears to have come up with a solution to the question of whether the specific property truly belongs to the person in whose name it is registered.
The Land Owner Transparency Act has been introduced to create a public registry of property owners in the province. Notably, this is the first legislation of its kind in Canada and is aimed towards ending the use of trusts, corporations and partnerships to shield transactions from public view.
The new legislation was positively received at Transparency International Canada whose executive director, James Cohen, noted that Canada has been criticized globally for our apparently lax beneficial ownership legislation.
In accordance with this legislation, corporations, trusts and partnerships that buy land would have to disclose their beneficial owners in the registry. It is interesting to note that failure to do so will result in fines of up to $100,000.00 or 15% of the assessed value of the property, whichever is greater.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (Canada) submitted certain concerns to the province such as questions of how the new framework is to work with other relevant legislation and raised questions of privacy.
Will Ontario follow suit? Stay tuned.
To learn more about this new initiative, check out this Globe and Mail article on the topic.
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