New laws that kick in today will trigger major changes to real-estate transactions, as part of federal efforts to battle money laundering.
Under the new regulations, realtors will have to collect personal information from property sellers and buyers, such as their name, address, date of birth and occupation, backed up by identification such as a driver's licence or passport.
When dealing with foreign buyers, agents in Canada will now have to hire local agents who can vouch for the identity of the buyer.
The agents will be required to hang onto that information for five years and have it available for the Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), if needed. Otherwise, the information will remain confidential.
The centre was established by the federal government in an effort to track suspicious property deals and prevent shady buyers from dumping large amounts of cash into property purchases.
Bill C-25, which was passed in 2007, demands several industries do their part to help put a stop to terrorist financing and money laundering.
It is estimated that nearly 63 per cent of money laundering is done through real estate.
RE/MAX reported having $2.6 billion in sales in 2007 in 67,000 transactions.
"Real estate agents have had legal obligations under the federal government's push to prevent criminal activity and terrorism since 2001," says Calvin Lindberg, president of The Canadian Real Estate Association. "In the first phase of compliance, real estate agents were required to report only suspicious transactions, or transactions involving more than $10,000 in cash," he said in a news release issued Monday.
Now, real estate agents have to complete a report on the receipts of all funds received during the transaction, not just for $10,000 or more.
If an agent is dealing with the corporation, they must collect corporate documentation and the names of the corporation's directors.
In cases where only one of the parties involved in the transaction is represented by the agent, identification must still be collected.
"Those buying or selling privately will be asked by the agent representing the other party involved in the transaction to provide proof of identity as well, and that record must be kept by the real estate agent involved in the transaction," the news release said.
Bob Linney, CREA spokesperson, said there are also ways to keep track of buyers and sellers who choose to complete the transaction without the help of an agent.
"Sales involving private sellers only are not covered by the real estate regulations," "FINTRAC assumes they will be captured by regulations governing the banking industry now, and in addition by the legal profession when their compliance requirements kick in later."
The new regulations will be non-negotiable and buyers who are unable or unwilling to provide the required information will not be able to complete property purchases. Additionally, the agent would be required to walk away from the deal or report the buyer to FINTRAC.
In Ontario alone, 47,000 realtors will be subject to the new rules.
Over the next six months, the government will perform random spot checks on real estate transactions. But once that window closes, agents will face fines, or even jail time, if they fail to comply with the regulations.
The new requirements for realtors are part of regulatory changes that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced in December of last year to strengthen Canada's anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regulations.
"The new regulations bring Canada's anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regime in line with the international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force, a G8 created body," states a news release from FINTRAC.
A. Mark Argentino
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