The B.C. government is closing a major loophole used to hide wealth, evade taxes and launder money in the province’s housing market.
Finance Minister Carole James introduced legislation on Tuesday that, if passed, will establish a public registry of beneficial owners of property in B.C.
The law will require corporations, trusts and partnerships that currently own or buy land, to disclose their beneficial owners in the registry. This is the first registry of its kind in Canada.
“For years, the previous government did not act while people used numbered companies, trusts and partnerships to hide who really owns property in B.C.,” James said.
“This registry will make information about the true owners of B.C. 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 B.C. are used for people, not speculative investment or money laundering.”
Corporations, trusts and partnerships that fail to disclose their beneficial owners could face fines of up to $100,000 or 15 per cent of the assessed property value, whichever is greater.
Information — including names of all corporate interest holders, beneficial owners or partners — will be publicly searchable through the registry. Tax authorities, law enforcement agencies and relevant regulators will have access to more detailed information and may use it to crack down on tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.
“Requiring companies, trusts and partnerships to disclose their controlling shareholders, beneficial owners and partners protects the public by letting everyone know who they are dealing with in B.C.’s real estate market,” Law Society of B.C. president Nancy Merrill said.
“This groundbreaking move by the B.C. government will increase the transparency of land ownership in B.C. 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 registry will be self-funded through fees for filing and searching. The Ministry of Finance will be responsible for enforcement. The Canada Revenue Agency will have access to information and may use it to crack down on tax evasion.
The registry will be operational next year, on the date the act comes into force.
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