Ontario realtors call for housing registry to help stop money laundering

By: Lisa Coxon on May 15, 2019

Following recent news that Canada is probably missing some 99.9% of real estate money laundering and that corporations have invested more than $28 billion in the Toronto housing market, Ontario realtors are calling for the implementation of a property ownership registry.

The proposed registry, similar to the one soon being launched in British Columbia, would require those who own property through numbered companies and trust funds to identify themselves.

The Toronto Real Estate Board said the current land registry enables such property owners to remain anonymous.

“TREB would welcome a discussion with other housing market stakeholders, including government, about requiring beneficial owners of real estate to identify themselves to land title authorities,” spokesperson Mary Gallagher said in an emailed statement to the Toronto Star.

The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) is also calling for action on the issue.

“Ontario realtors don’t want to see a single dollar of dirty money coming into the housing market,” Ontario Real Estate Association CEO Tim Hudak told the Star. “When criminals hide their money here, it drives the price of real estate out of reach for regular Ontarians.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Finance has discussed the possibility of a registry but so far, no concrete steps have been made to bring one to fruition.

Robert Gibson, spokesperson for Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s Finance Minister, told the Star via email: “It’s something that we’ll continue to monitor.”

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, an ownership registry will be launched in 2020 in a bid to crack down on the $5.3 billion in dirty money that flowed through the province’s real estate market last year and has been responsible for driving prices up in Metro Vancouver, where it takes 34 years to save for a down payment.

Finance Minister Carole James introduced the bill in April. When it does, the public will be able to access information such as names and property details for a fee.

Other details, such as names, birthdates, SINs, relevant tax information and residency status will be shared with law enforcement, as well as tax and regulatory agencies, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Anyone who tries to remain anonymous once the bill becomes law could be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to $100,000, or 15% of the property value — whichever is greater.

Such registries have been effective in the U.K. and the U.S., where, according to the Star, “cash purchases of luxury real estate by anonymous companies plummeted 70 per cent in areas where the U.S. Department of Justice imposed a requirement that purchasers reveal their identities.”

“Canada still has the welcome mat out for dirty money,” James Cohen, the executive director of Transparency International Canada, told the Star. “We’re still asleep at the wheel on the issue.

“It’s time for Ontario to implement beneficial ownership registry of land.”