BC’s New Property Registry 2019: A good idea?

* this is a brief commentary on the topic of BC’s newly proposed property registry. For more information, contact our office.

How does owning a condo in the name of my company raise the risk that the owner is committing fraud, laundering money or evading taxes?

As usual these unsubstantiated assumptions are made by the government and then blindly repeated by the reporter without question.

Rather than creating a whole new bureaucracy (something that the NDP government excels at), just add a few lines to the current electronic Property Transfer Tax form to include the name of the beneficial (“real”) owner if it’s not the same as the registered owner.

BC proeprty registry identity beneficial ownership twitter

For corporate ownership, the real owner of the property is often the company, so that information would not change.

If you want to know who the shareholders of the corporate owner are, then a simple amendment to the BC Corporations Act to require the recording of shareholders in the Corporate Registry would suffice.

At the moment, information about shareholders is NOT required for incorporations nor annual corporate filings, something which is long overdue.

As usual, the BC NDP government wants to look like it is doing something of value while choosing the most expensive way to do it –not exactly a surprise.

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DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is not legal advice and is presented for information purposes only. Readers of this material should consult with their own legal counsel before making a decision based on this legislation.

For information about this please feel free to contact  Kenneth Pazder or Melissa Valana at 604-682-1509.


The Speculation and Vacancy Tax – What the government isn’t saying

On November 27, 2018, the speculation tax was passed in B.C. to, in the government’s words “target speculators who own residences in B.C. but don’t pay taxes here, turn empty homes into good housing for people, and raise revenue that will directly support affordable housing.”

The pitch to the public was that this tax would aid in tackling the housing crises in major urban centers in British Columbia and make housing more affordable for people in our province.

The government also claimed that over 99% of British Columbians would be exempt from the tax.

So far so good?

Well in realty the impact of The Speculation and Vacancy Tax is not exactly as advertised. Below are but a few of the issues that government neglected to include in its marketing materials:

What are Speculators?

The Speculation and Vacancy Tax does not define the terms “speculator” or “speculation.” Moreover, the term speculation is not even mentioned in the Act. There is no pre-amble or other section that explains how the Act is supposed to stop speculation. Then why is it called The Speculation and Vacancy Tax?

The term “speculation” is normally a pejorative description of the dubious practice of trying to make a quick buck on a venture while not contributing any long term value for anyone else.

It would seem that the BC government thinks that anyone who owns a property that is neither occupied by themselves or rented out is a speculator –and hence, should be punished by a hefty tax penalty.

Renting your property for 6 months is not as easy as you might think.

To avoid the tax penalty an owner has to occupy the property as his principal residence or rent it out for at least six months of the year.  The implied assumption is that it is entirely possible to rent one’s property out for this minimum period of time and thus, be in compliance with the Act.

Firstly, who rents a residential property for just six months? Most renters want a place to live for the indefinite future, which is usually measured in years, not months.

Secondly, even if you can find someone who agrees to rent for six months, recent changes to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) have now made a term lease very difficult to terminate. The amendments to the RTA prohibit landlords from ending fixed term tenancy agreements when they expire except in very limited circumstances. Therefore, your tenant is under no legal obligation to vacate the premises at the end of the fixed term!

Unless the tenant agrees to vacate, the tenancy will continue on a month to month basis and there is little the Landlord can do to terminate it thereafter except to move into the property (or have a family member move in), extensively renovate the property such that it’s not possible to live in during the renovations or sell it.

The Act is retroactive to January 1, 2018

Instead of making this tax prospective so that people could have arranged their affairs accordingly, the government made this tax retroactive to January 1, 2018. The act was passed in late November when it was too late for people to bring their properties into compliance with the Act.

This is incredibly disingenuous on the government’s part.

In addition, any form of retroactive legislation is generally considered bad tax policy.

As a marketing ploy the government generously allowed everyone a “tax break” to the lowest tax rate of one half of one percent of the assessed values of their properties. I am sure that the people affected are thrilled to be stuck with an extra tax bill (i.e. on a million dollar property that’s an extra $5,000 on top of the owner’s normal property taxes!)

The fact that the government made the tax retroactive is evidence that that the Speculation and Vacancy Tax is a tax grab –the NDP just couldn’t resist legally pilfering that extra .5% for 2018 from unsuspecting property owners.

Non-arm’s length Tenancies for Foreign Owners and their unreasonable requirements

The non-arm’s length tenancy requirements for foreign owners leaves more questions than answers.

The law states that for non-arm’s length tenancies there is no need for a lease/tenancy agreement or for any rent to be paid. However, if the owner is a foreign owner then the tenant must meet other requirements for the owner to be exempt. The tenant must:

– Be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident;

– Be a resident of B.C. for income tax purposes at the end of the last day of the calendar year;

– Not be a member of a satellite family; and

– Have a B.C. income for the calendar year that is equal to or greater than three times the annual fair market rent for the entire residential property.

You may be wondering why the government cares about how much income the tenant is earning? That is a good question. This tax is supposed to be targeting vacant homes, so if there is someone occupying the property why does it matter how much income the tenant is earning?

Furthermore, even if the tenant is non-arm’s length how are landlords going to get their tenants to disclose their annual income? Clearly the government did not think about how this act would interact with privacy legislation.

Moreover, without the requirement of a lease or rent obligations if the government were to audit a filed Spec Tax Declaration, how does the owner prove that there was someone living in the property? I recently posed just this question to the Speculation and Vacancy Tax department and the answer I received was “that is a question for the Audit and Compliance team, which by the way hasn’t even been formed yet.”

Clearly the government sought to rush this piece of legislation through Parliament without considering the implications or how they were going to enforce it.

Issues in Estate Planning

A common estate planning method is to have children or other family members registered as joint tenants on title of the property to avoid probate fees when the elder joint tenant (usually the parent) dies. However, the Speculation and Vacancy Tax, unlike the Empty Homes tax is applicable to all owners of the property and its applicability depends on each owner’s use of the property, not just that of the person in possession.

Thus, having one’s child as a co-owner of the property without living in it may have adverse tax implications. For instance, if the child is a foreign owner and the parent does not meet the above requirements (e.g. doesn’t make the requisite amount of income), the child could be subject to the tax, thereby eliminating the advantages of avoiding probate fees.

This again leads to the same question. If someone is living in the property why should it be subject to tax?

Erosion of Property Rights

As long as your use of your house or condo is not illegal, why should the government be able to tell you what you can do with it?

Fee simple title, which is the highest form of ownership available in common law countries, is being eroded by laws such as The Speculation and Vacancy Tax and the Empty Homes Tax which require rental of properties not otherwise occupied as principal residences.

Failure to comply with such laws will result in a 1% property tax on the property in Vancouver AND a fine of up to $10,000 a day if a false declaration is made. Does that fine strike you as a bit much?

The Speculation and Vacancy Tax will add a further 2% tax if you are a foreign owner and 0.5 if you are a Canadian citizen or BC resident, for failure to comply with its rules (and to add insult to injury, it applies in Vancouver as well!) So for example, let’s look at a high end condo in the Shaw Tower in Vancouver where a “speculator” has owned the property for 15 years, but doesn’t live in it for more than six months each year. With an assessed value of $4,000,000, the owner would have to pay an extra $40,000 in taxes to the city of Vancouver and an additional $80,000 in taxes to the BC government.

If such taxes only applied to foreign owners, one could justify the tax grab on the basis that arguably, foreign capital has driven up the price of BC real estate, so foreign owners should foot the bills.

However, these taxes are applicable to any owners including Canadian citizens and BC residents.

This is clearly an unwarranted infringement on one’s ownership rights.
As usual, the unproven hypothesis is that the “many thousands” of vacant homes and apartments are the culprits and if the government could only get them occupied the housing problem would be ameliorated.

With all due respect, that is wishful thinking.

With some 50,000 people a year moving to the Lower Mainland, even mandating occupancy for every otherwise unoccupied house or condo in BC won’t even make a dent in the housing shortage –but it will create two more expensive bureaucracies and further siphon off people’s hard earned incomes.

What about raising revenue to support affordable housing?

The government estimates that the tax will raise about $200M in revenue.

Even if the cost of running the bureaucracy needed to administer this program was zero (which it clearly will not be), $200M is a drop in the bucket when it comes to building more affordable housing. That’s basically the cost of one large high rise condo development.

Furthermore, I did not notice in any articles or press releases that the $200M would be specifically ear marked for affordable housing, so one can only assume that this revenue, like all government levies will go into GENERAL REVENUE of the Province of BC, to be used for whatever project of the day that government deems most expedient.*


The BC Speculation and Vacancy Tax will fall far short in terms of achieving its stated policy goals.

Unfortunately, that is not relevant. These “virtue-signaling” taxes are supposed to make tax payers feel good about paying them –whether they work or not.

*PST (provincial sales tax) is generally levied on goods sold in BC, however in 1992 Premier Glen Clark amended the law to allow the government to tax legal services under this legislation –ostensibly to fund the provincial legal aid plan, a worthwhile cause which is perpetually short of money.

However rather than using the money to fund legal aid, both the province’s political parties have used the levy to siphon money into general revenue rather than earmarking the funds collected by lawyers for much-needed legal aid and other justice-related services.

The government is pocketing more than $140 million a year while spending only about $80 million on legal aid when the courts are overflowing with the unrepresented litigants who can’t afford lawyers and don’t qualify for legal aid.


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DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is not legal advice and is presented for information purposes only. The Speculation and Vacancy Tax has already been changed several times since its recent passage only months ago so it is suggested that readers of this material should consult with their own legal counsel before making a decision based on this legislation.

For information about this please feel free to contact  Kenneth Pazder or Melissa Valana at 604-682-1509.


Canada’s first pre-sale register to crack down on flipping

The BC government is announcing the creation what appears to be yet another make work project to create needless government jobs (doubtless for NDP supporters).

It’s called “The Condo and Strata Assignment Integrity Register.”

Even the name is odd.  It implies that there is a difference between condos and stratas.

However, in common parlance, a condo is a strata and vice versa.

Furthermore the BC Condominium Property Act (which used the term “condominium”) was replaced with the Strata Property Act over 20 years ago and the new act uses the term “strata” (and no mention of the term “condo” or “condominium” is made in its definition section).

While there are still some condominiums that exist (built pre-1998), they certainly are not going to be flipped by way of contract assignments.

Moreover, the misleading headline put out by the government says that the new assignments register will “crack down on flipping.”

With respect, it will do no such thing. It is simply a registry whereby data on assignments is collected.

“It is widely acknowledged that the practice of pre-sale flipping has been a factor in driving up real estate prices while facilitating tax evasion. Because of a lack of transparency regarding these transactions, it is unknown exactly how many assignment flips occur each year.  This new register will put an end to this lack of information.” (emphasis mine)

Rather than putting an end to the lack of information, how about putting an end to the practice!

If the government was serious in its assertion that pre-sale flipping is driving up the price of real estate it could easily pass a regulation under the Real Estate Development and Marketing Act (“REDMA”) prohibiting assignments of pre-sale contracts.

In fact, I wrote to the BC housing minister before this registry was proposed suggesting just that.

If assignments were prohibited, a buyer would have to complete the pre-sale purchase, pay the GST and PST (thus ensuring that the federal and provincial governments got their slice of the pie) and then, if the buyer chose to do so, he could re-sell the property to someone else.  There would be no need for another wasteful bureaucracy to track meaningless information, as there would be no assignments to be concerned about.

Exceptions could be made for special circumstances (such as a job loss, divorce, accident, death or other unforeseen circumstance that could befall a genuine purchaser), but by and large a prohibition on condo flipping would work far better than a registry to merely record the details.

Speculators, both local and foreign have made billions of dollars buying and re-selling pre-sale contracts in BC over the past 15 years.

Instead of putting an end to this highly SPECULATIVE practice, the government will simply record the details, which will in no way decrease condo flipping when the market starts to rise again.

Ironically, the NDP government just recently enacted the SPECULATION and VACANCY TAX which retroactively targets both local and foreign homeowners who happen to own a second property (or interest therein) in designated parts of BC.  There is little to suggest that this poorly drafted piece of legislation will penalize any speculator, but a great many of ordinary homeowners who find themselves on the title to a property that they don’t reside in, will be definitely be unfairly penalized.

More on the Spec Tax later, but for now, suffice it to say that the Condo and Strata Assignment Integrity Register is both a waste of time and tax payers’ money.

© 2019 Pazder Law Corporation


1460- 800 W. Pender St., Vancouver, BC, V6C 2V6
Tel: 604-682-1509 Fax: 604-682-3196
Web: www.pazderlaw.com Email: plc@pazderlaw.com
Call Kenneth Pazder or Melissa Valana

DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is not legal advice. It is presented for information purposes only. Cases and/or statutes cited or contract provisions may change over time. When drafting a legal contract it is strongly suggested that competent professional advice be obtained by the parties prior to signing the contract or removing subject conditions contained therein.

5 Ways the Government could Help with Housing Affordability in Vancouver BC


This article suggests 5 things that the government could do to help housing affordability.

1.     Longer amortizations are a good idea.  They help buyers get into the market.  All mortgages have prepayment options so if the buyer’s fortunes improve he or she can shorten the amortization down the road.

2.     Scrap the mortgage stress test. Historical mortgage default rates in Canada for the last 50 years are about .3% and there has never been a stress test. Even in 1880-82 when interest rates hit almost 20%, the default rates were well under 5%.  People default on their mortgages due to job loss, sickness, divorce and other calamities –not because the interest rate goes up a few points.

3.     Increase first time homebuyers credit?  It can’t hurt, but it would have to go up quite a bit to make a difference in the Lower Mainland.

4.     Build more affordable government-subsidized housing.  Great idea, but it will never happen.

5.     Do nothing. Well, that advice should have been given before the stress test was implemented, because 4 consecutive interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada since 2017 would have cooled off the housing market without more.

© 2019 Pazder Law Corporation

1460- 800 W. Pender St., Vancouver, BC, V6C 2V6
Tel: 604-682-1509 Fax: 604-682-3196
Web: www.pazderlaw.com Email: plc@pazderlaw.com
Call Kenneth Pazder or Melissa Valana

DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is not legal advice. It is presented for information purposes only. Cases and/or statutes cited or contract provisions may change over time. When drafting a legal contract it is strongly suggested that competent professional advice be obtained by the parties prior to signing the contract or removing subject conditions contained therein.


Why are Metro Vancouver housing prices falling? When will this trend end?

Those are the $64,000 questions which occupy the top of the charts these days.

For the past 10 years foreign money has poured in to Canada, particularly Vancouver and the Lower Mainland destabilizing real estate prices and uncoupling them from local incomes.

Both the BC and federal governments turned a blind eye to this phenomenon for the better part of the decade and in fact, encouraged it as “foreign investment.”

Finally, upon realizing what was evident to the public for years, both governments acted by attempting to reduce the demand for housing through legislation.

  • In July of 2016 the BC government introduced the 15% Foreign Buyers Tax and then in February of 2018 further increased it to 20%.
  • In January of 2018 the federal government’s financial regulator introduced a mortgage stress test to make it more difficult for buyers to qualify for a mortgage loan.
  • Four consecutive interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada since 2017 also made financing a mortgage more difficult.
  • The city of Vancouver added the Empty Homes Tax which took effect on January 1, 2017.
  • And finally, to add insult to injury, the misleadingly named “Speculation and Vacancy Tax” came into effect at the end of last year but applied retroactively to all of 2018 (even though details on the tax were not available to the public until late October of last year).

These measures all combined to choke off demand for housing and thus, cause sellers to reduce their prices.

More expensive single family detached homes particularly on the West Side and West Vancouver have been hit harder than lower priced homes and condominiums. Likely the reason for this is that there are not enough locals who can afford homes priced above the three or four million dollar mark.

The inescapable conclusion to draw from stories like this one is that foreign money is responsible for far more than the miniscule 2.92% of real estate transactions reported by the BC government for most of 2018.

Where does that leave the BC real estate market?

In terms of numbers, the amount of sales in Metro Vancouver were off about 40% from January of last year and about 36% below the average number of sales for January over the last 10 years. That is very significant.

The marginally positive signs are:

  • Sales were up 2.9% from December, 2018
  • Realtors are starting to report more traffic at open houses (but for now buyers are still holding off on making offers, believing that they can get a better price by waiting.  The catch is that no one can reliably time the market).
  • There is mounting pressure on the Feds to reduce or eliminate the mortgage stress test.
  • Interest rates have just started to inch down on 5 year mortgages.
  • It’s an election year and the political parties will be trying to look like they are serious about tackling housing affordability, so other measures could be coming

So there is light at the end of the real estate tunnel, but for the moment it’s only a pen light.

[Vancouver Real Estate]: How to lie with Statistics

coputer screen with numbers
“Foreign capital accounted for only 2.92% of Metro Vancouver real estate sales over 11 months” was the recent headline in the Georgia Straight earlier this month.
As the perennial classic book by Darrell Huff points out, there are many ways to deceive with statistics, including how they are presented.
These foreign capital statistics are misleading, as they relate only to the period between January and November of 2018 – about 7 months AFTER the implementation of the Foreign Buyers Tax (“FBT”) which added 15%-20% to the price of house for a foreign buyer in BC.
One would expect that the effect of this tax would be a dramatic decrease in the activity of foreign buyers who, prior to 2017 had been purchasing BC real estate on the same basis as Canadians, but in US dollars, thus getting a 25-35% discount based on the exchange rate.
Far more illuminating statistics would be the ones from 2010 to July of 2016 (when the FBT was imposed), however so such data exists as it was not being collected.
Thus no one knows what percentage of BC real estate foreign buyers currently own and what percentage of buyers they made up during those years. 
In addition, for very high end properties (i.e. $4M and upwards), the sales activity in BC has almost stopped entirely since last year, suggesting that foreign capital was responsible for most of that activity in the first place (certainly far more that 2.92%!!)
Presenting these figures without pointing out these additional factors creates the false impression that foreigners and foreign money has had an insignificant effect on BC real estate prices.

Is the sky falling? Vancouver Real Estate Prices in 2019

Vancouver reale state prices 2019

“Uncharted Waters” reads the front page of the Vancouver Sun last weekend, with the comment that “insiders” say that there are signs that is a full blown market correction looming! (…followed by the teaser, “But really, who knows?)

This does not add much to what we already know.

With 20/20 hindsight, it points out that the government-mandated mortgage stress test, combined with several interest rate hikes and the implementation of the Foreign Buyers Tax and the Speculation Tax in BC all contributed to a slowdown in the Vancouver housing market.

Then the usual suspects trot out their opinions about an upcoming slowdown in the market for 2019 (“There is greater reason to think that the regulation-induced downturn in sales will be sustained and will lead to a drop in housing prices.”)

However, studies about the reliability of expert opinions suggest that flipping a coin is about as good as most expert predictions.

The price drops are quite modest at this time, but because the public in BC has been used to double digit price increases for the past number of years, any slowdown, much less correction seems like a calamity.

In my view, housing affordability in the Lower Mainland is long gone –never to return, as long as Vancouver remains a “world class” city (and who would want to relinquish that distinction in exchange for lower housing costs?)

It would be better to reduce taxes and spend government money to create better paying jobs to allow buyers to afford the higher prices, rather than to meddle with the market and risk a far greater disaster, namely destroying the value of most people’s major asset.

Real Estate Advice: A dozen things NOT TO DO before you buy a home!

The market has slowed down so you have some breathing space to shop for a home without a half a dozen people waiting behind you to offer over the asking price with no due diligence conditions.

However, the government has recently imposed “stress tests” for mortgage approval thereby making it more difficult to qualify for a mortgage.

In addition, some “experts” are predicting that prices will soften in the foreseeable future, although such predictions are wrong almost as often as they are right.

So if you can pass the stress test and have the cajones to buy when few others are (as Warren Buffett says, “Be fearful when others are greedy, but be greedy when others are fearful”), then your first stop is to get your financing in order.

To figure out your price range, talk to a mortgage broker or banker to get pre-approved for financing.

But before you even do that, AVOID THESE DOZEN “NO-NO’S” according to senior mortgage advisor, Karen Gibbard:


  1. Buy a car;
  2. Change jobs;
  3. Change banks;
  4. Open new credit facilities;
  5. Move your money around;
  6. Make a large deposit to your bank account;
  7. Buy anything new on credit;
  8. Authorize anyone to make credit bureau enquiries;
  9. Guarantee or co-sign anyone else’s mortgage or other debt;
  10. Stretch the truth on your mortgage application;
  11. Spend the money you were going to use for closing costs;
  12. Overextend yourself –even if you qualify for it;

Buying a home is a stress test in and of itself, but there’s no need in making it worse than it has to be by doing things that the banks don’t like.


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© 2018



Offices in Vancouver and White Rock

DISCLAIMER:  The foregoing is not legal advice.  It is for information purposes only. When undertaking a financially significant transaction such as a sale or purchase of real estate it is always recommended that you obtain professional advice to assist you to make the best decision. If you don’t know a good realtor, mortgage broker or banker, we can help you with that selection as well.

Ask a Vancouver real estate lawyer: is Canada’s real estate market ACTUALLY about to crash?

vancouver canada english bay purple sunset

Is Canada’s real estate market at extreme risk or out of danger?

Doug Porter, the chief economist at BMO opines in the above article that the worst is behind us and the “soft landing” that was hoped for has in fact materialized.

Forecasting and analytics company, Oxford Economics Group on the other hand still ranks Canada as the third riskiest real estate market in the world (“Our set of cross-country risk indicators points to housing market dangers being especially acute in Sweden, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong.”)

The BC Real Estate Association predicts a 12% growth in home sales next year, however the Canadian Real Estate Association is more pessimistic, predicting (“The market is held back by unprecedented decreases in sales activity in British Columbia, and weak (but stronger than expected) sales activity in Ontario. Both provinces are forecasted to see double digit declines by the end of the year.”)

Who is right?

Flip a coin –you will be about as accurate as the experts.

An interesting article from The Smithsonian entitled, “Why Experts are Almost Always Wrong” points out that expert predictions on everything from political events to technology trends to stock picking are only marginally better than random chance.

“In field after field, when it came to centrally important skills—stockbrokers recommending stocks, parole officers predicting recidivism, college admissions officials judging applicants—people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with very little experience.”

So, getting back to our central question, is now the right time to buy a house in the Lower Mainland?

In our view, it is always the right time to buy a house in Metro Vancouver, notwithstanding the vagaries of interest rates, the provincial economy, the ineptitude of the current federal and BC governments, world energy prices, climate change, pipeline protests and the many other variables that can have an effect on real estate.

Metro Vancouver is one of the most desirable places to live in the world and tens of thousands of people are still moving here every year. That trend does not seem to be abating.

At the present time, the real estate market has slowed down, prices have come off their peak somewhat and inventory has increased.

Arguably, it’s now a buyer’s market, with even a few detached homes in Vancouver dipping below the $1M mark.

That means that a buyer can make an offer containing the normal due diligence conditions without having to bid against other buyers who are prepared to pay over the asking price with no conditions (as has been the norm for the past few years).

Unless one is a land speculator, a real estate buyer should be prepared to hold a property for five to ten years, in which case market fluctuations should have been ironed out and probably the home will have appreciated in value (although not necessarily at the blistering rate of the last ten years).

Is there still a risk that the prices could go down and stay down?  Of course, but what financial decision does not have any risk?

For instance, the decision NOT to buy also carries a risk.

Buyers who chose to rent for the last ten years have been literally priced out of the market –and rents have become sky high as well!  In retrospect, that decision proved to be a very risky one indeed.

While the past is not a reliable indicator of the future, the graph below shows that over the last forty years in Greater Vancouver, the general trend has been for prices to increase and when they have declined, that correction has not lasted long.

Greater Vancouver Residential Real Estate Sales 1977 to 2017 graph

No one –certainly not the “experts,” can predict when the present market slowdown will end (or whether prices will continue to decline further).

Given that fact, if you have the financial wherewithal to buy and are prepared to hold the property for five to ten years, then your chances of a financial loss would seem to be slim and your chances of a gain likely.

In this highly desirable part of the world this old real estate bromide still seems apropos:

“Don’t wait to buy real estate.  Buy real estate and wait.” (Will Rogers)

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© 2018



Offices in Vancouver and White Rock

DISCLAIMER:  The foregoing is not legal advice.  It is for information purposes only. When undertaking a financially significant transaction such as a sale or purchase of real estate it is always recommended that you obtain professional advice to assist you to make the best decision. If you don’t know a good realtor, mortgage broker or banker, we can help you with that selection as well.