Canada: The End Of Anonymous Land Ownership In British Columbia

Last Updated: August 6 2018
Article by Robert G. Nikelski, Wilfred Chan, Taylor Buckley and Daniel L.R. Yaverbaum

Anonymous ownership of land is possible in countries with Anglo-American law (including Canada) by holding land through corporations, trusts and other legal arrangements. Those structures are key elements of the Canadian legal system, but can be abused to enable tax evasion and money laundering, among other misdeeds.

To address those issues, and try to put a damper on British Columbia's red-hot real estate market, the government of British Columbia has announced legislation that is the first of its kind in Canada and would require public disclosure of the individuals at the end of the land-ownership chain. The proposal is to create a "beneficial ownership registry" that would require the owners of land in British Columbia to identify to the Government all the individual people (e.g., shareholders, trust beneficiaries, etc.) that hold a beneficial interest in the property. The registry would be accessible by the general public, subject to certain proposed exemptions. The proposed law will not change the current tax regime in British Columbia, however, the potential for future changes to the taxes payable upon transfer of beneficial ownership exists.

The Government is seeking comments on the proposed law by August 19, 2018, including in respect of potential exemptions from the proposed reporting requirements. Please contact one of our key contacts or any member of our Dentons Real Estate team to act on this opportunity to provide submissions to the Government ahead of the deadline.


The current land transfer system in British Columbia – as in other jurisdictions – requires only that the legal owners of the property be disclosed in the land title registry. This allows a company to hold real estate in its own name, rather than in the name of the individual(s) behind it. Alternatively, a nominee could be a registered owner of a property pursuant to a bare trust without identifying the beneficiaries of the trust, or without even disclosing that the nominee is not the beneficial owner. While the Government has required new purchasers to disclose the existence of a bare trust – and the beneficiaries thereof – for all transfers of legal title since 2016, this information has not been sought in respect of pre-existing beneficial owners or transfers of pre-existing beneficial interests.

These ownership arrangements have attracted greater scrutiny in recent years, especially their use in respect of Vancouver residential property. With public attention also directed at rapid increases in home prices and large-scale money laundering, the government of British Columbia proposed a list of reforms to the real estate sector in its 2018 Budget. One such reform is to increase transparency as to the true owners of real estate by requiring disclosure of all direct and indirect beneficial owners, i.e., the individuals who own or control the property through one or more intermediaries.

Draft legislation: Overview

The proposed law, known as the Land Owner Transparency Act (LOTA), would require disclosure of the ultimate beneficial owners of an "interest in land", which includes strata property and long-term leases, as well as freehold residential or commercial property. It mandates new disclosure by companies, partnerships and trusts. There are exceptions for organizations that already have disclosure requirements (such as publicly-listed companies), or are considered less susceptible to abuse (such as charitable trusts). There is also scope for exemptions by way of regulations, which have not yet been proposed. The non-excepted entities, i.e., those subject to the new disclosure rules, are referred to as "relevant corporations", "relevant partnerships" or "relevant trusts".

The LOTA sets out three new filing obligations:

  1. A registered owner as of the date that the LOTA becomes effective – specifically, a relevant corporation, a partner of a relevant partnership or a trustee of a relevant trust – that is holding real property for the benefit of others, including commercial and industrial properties, will have to explain the ownership structure and name certain individual owners (referred to as "interest holders"), through a new filing known as a "disclosure report".
  2. For any transfer of legal title that occurs after the effective date, a transferee will have to make a "transparency declaration", indicating whether it is a relevant corporation, a partner holding for a relevant partnership, or a trustee holding for a relevant trust. Any such owner would then have to file a disclosure report.
  3. Also after the effective date, a new disclosure report would have to be filed within two months of any change in interest holders that does not involve a legal transfer of title.

In the case of a relevant partnership or relevant trust, all partners and beneficiaries with an interest in the property would have to be identified, although the regulations may provide exemptions. In the case of a relevant corporation, individual controlling shareholders1 would need to be named. A relevant partnership or relevant corporation would also have to provide information about itself, including its registered office address and business number.2

The draft legislation recognizes that, in some cases, a registered owner will not have information about interest holders, or will have difficulties verifying such information. In that respect, it creates a duty for registered owners "to make reasonable efforts to obtain and confirm the accuracy" of interest holders' information,3 and to report certain details in the event that interest holders cannot be identified despite such efforts.4

Privacy matters

The information in the disclosure reports will form a registry of beneficial landowners in British Columbia. Some personal information would only be accessible to law enforcement and other public authorities. This includes interest holders' social insurance numbers and all information about interest holders who are minors. Other data, including the name and city of residence of an interest holder, will be accessible by the public.

The disclosure obligations – and the public access, in particular – will raise concerns about the privacy rights of interest holders. The LOTA attempts to address such concerns in a number of ways, including requiring the registered owner to notify the interest holder(s) of the disclosure obligations, and prohibiting misuse of personal information made available. For example, using such information to solicit or harass an interest holder will be an offence under the LOTA.5 In addition, interest holders may request that personal information be omitted if disclosure "could reasonably be expected" to threaten to their health or safety.6 If such a request is granted, then some or all of their personal information required to be disclosed will not be made public, but will still be accessible to law enforcement and other authorities.

There will be a fee for members of the public to search the registry, which is another way to limit unnecessary invasions of privacy. The fee amount has not yet been set, and it is not clear who might be exempted from having to pay it, though the regulations will shed light on this. One possibility is that accredited members of the media could be entitled to conduct searches without charge if they are doing so for the purpose of exposing abuses that the legislation is intended to address, such as tax evasion or fraud.7 Public authorities will not have to pay a fee to search the registry.

Potential liability

The LOTA provides for administrative penalties and criminal offences for contraventions of certain sections of the act. For example, providing false or misleading information in a transparency report or disclosure report could result in an administrative penalty or constitute an offence.8 

The administrative penalty for a contravention of the LOTA is capped at $25,000 for an individual and $50,000 for a corporation, while the fine for an offence is capped at $50,000 for an individual and $100,000 for a corporation. A contravention of the LOTA cannot result in imprisonment. 

The LOTA provides a short time frame to pay or dispute an administrative penalty. A person receiving notice of an administrative penalty has 14 days within which to pay or dispute the penalty. That person then has 30 days to deliver written submission to the administrator. Alternatively, that person may request an oral hearing to determine the dispute, but only if the administrative penalty is greater than $10,000 for a corporation or $5,000 for an individual.9 Offences for contravening the LOTA will be prosecuted as criminal offences.

The administrative penalties or fines may be imposed on an officer, director, manager or agent of a corporation or limited liability company who authorizes, permits or participates in a prescribed contravention of the act. That potential liability is in addition to any administrative penalties or fines that could be levied on the corporation itself. For example, the LOTA expressly provides that an officer, director, manger or agent may commit an offence whether or not the corporation or limited liability company is charged or convicted.10

Next steps

As noted, the Government is seeking comments on the proposed legislation, including potential exemptions from the reporting requirements, by August 19, 2018. One example is a possible exemption from the reporting requirement for interests in "broadly-held limited liability partnership interests",11 and it is reasonable to assume that additional exemptions will be enacted. Notably, the United Kingdom is similarly in the process of creating a registry of beneficial owners of land in that country, and is considering the scope of reporting requirements, as described here. The UK legislation, when published, may impact the British Columbia government's views on the breadth of disclosure required under the LOTA.

* Daniel McElroy, Knowledge Management Lawyer in Dentons' Vancouver office, contributed to this alert.


1 Specifically, any individual who: (a) legally or beneficially owns or controls 25 percent or more of the equity or voting rights, (b) has the right to appoint or remove a majority of the board of directors, or (c) exercises "significant influence or control" over the corporation. This is set out in section 3 of the LOTA.

2 Sections 7 and 9 of the LOTA.

3 Section 17 of the LOTA.

4 Section 22 of the LOTA.

5 Section 75(a) of the LOTA.

6 Section 38 of the LOTA.

7 Section 34(2)(e) of the LOTA provides an exemption from the fees for "a prescribed person or entity, if the prescribed person or entity is searching, inspecting or obtaining copies or extracts for the purposes specified in the regulations". With respect to a possible exemption for media, it could resemble the policies that allow accredited media to use recording devices in British Columbia courtrooms.

8 Section 69 of the LOTA.

9 Section 61 of the LOTA.

10 Sections 64 and 77 of the LOTA.

11 This is identified in the notation to Part 7 of the LOTA, on page 49 of the government's White Paper.

About Dentons

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. Specific Questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions