New Registry Plans to Expose Hidden Vancouver Property Owners

(Bloomberg) -- In Vancouver, it’s impossible to identify the true owners of nearly half of the city’s most expensive properties -- dozen of homes are held by anonymous shells, with one C$29 million ($22 million) waterfront mansion registered to a student and others to homemakers with no apparent income.

British Columbia plans to peel back some of that anonymity, proposing legislation Tuesday to establish a public, searchable registry of beneficial property owners in the Pacific Coast province. Failure to disclose could result in a fine of C$100,000 or 15 percent of the property’s assessed value, whichever is greater, according to a government statement.

The move comes as Premier John Horgan’s government spearheads an anti-money laundering drive after finding that Vancouver-area casinos served for years as "laundromats" for crime organizations. This week, the government received a widely anticipated report on how that dirty money may have flowed into real estate, luxury cars and horse racing.

“This registry will make information about the true owners of B.C. real estate publicly available and help crack down on illegal activities," Finance Minister Carole James said in the statement.

In 2016, Transparency International found that ownership couldn’t be determined for at least C$1 billion worth of Vancouver property. It estimated that at least 11 percent were registered to nominees -- individuals, such as students and home makers, used as fronts.

It’s not clear how the legislation will tackle such so-called straw holders. The proposed legislation will only require private corporations, trusts and partnerships that currently own land or that buy land to disclose ownership information. The registry will give public access to the names of all corporate interest holders, beneficial owners, and partners. It will have more detailed information for tax authorities and law enforcement agencies.

In addition, the government said it’s also introducing amendments to the Business Corporations Act, which will require private companies to hold accurate information about the true owners of shares. It also plans to eliminate bearer shares -- unregistered shares that aren’t tracked by the issuer and are owned by whoever has physical possession of the stock certificate.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.