What is the Land Title and Survey Authority?
Those of you who are real estate transaction practitioners may recall that for a few weeks in 2003, the average time required to process an application for a title registration increased from six days to 37. Users started to complain, and the Law Society responded by recommending a new structure that would be independent of government and therefore more able to act quickly on problems; a structure that would more closely link to the main users of land title services and yet would still be fully accountable to the public. The Province accepted this proposal and proceeded to create the Land Title and Survey Authority.
The Land Title and Survey Authority (LSTA) is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that manages B.C.’s land title and survey systems for the benefit of all users. Its mission statement: to administer the Province’s land title registration system, which provides secure, conclusive and guaranteed title for land; to maintain a reliable property boundary structure for the Province, which provides the foundation for the accurate definition of the extent and location of an owner’s parcel of land; to support the Province’s programs for allocating Crown land into private ownership; and finally: to maintain the Province’s historical records that relate to land titles and surveys.
The LTSA operates under the following eight Provincial statutes:
• Boundary Act
• Land Title and Survey Authority Act
• Land Act
• Land Survey Act
• Land Surveyors Act
• Land Title Act
• Land Title Inquiry Act, and
• Land Transfer Form Act.
The LSTA is governed by an 11 member board of directors, a Stakeholder Advisory Committee, and a CEO and staff of approximately 135, with an annual budget of approximately $14 million. Members of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee are selected by the following stakeholders:
• Provincial Government
• Law Society of B.C.
• Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors
• B.C. Real Estate Association
• British Columbia Association of Professional Registry Agents
• First Nations Summit
• Society of Notaries Public of B.C.
• Union of B.C. Municipalities
The LTSA operates through two divisions: the Land Title Division which ensures continued integrity of BC’s Torrens title system for registering land titles and the Surveyor General Division which maintains the quality of the land survey structure of the Province and issues Crown Grant documents that transfer Crown land into private ownership.
Land title in British Columbia is operated under a system which is based on the principles of the “Torrens” registry system. Sir Robert Richard Torrens was an Australian who was unhappy with the existing land title system and, using his experience with registration of ownership of ocean vessels under merchant shipping laws, devised a method of making the land registry conclusive. Because it is conclusive, the system allows title to be “assured”. This assurance is provided through a guarantee that, should an error be made in a title, individuals who suffer a loss may look to an insurance fund to be compensated.
For some perspective on how effective our system is, consider this: in B.C. in the past 21 years, there have been 14.7 million transactions under the Land Title Act, only 87 of which have resulted in successful claims against the assurance fund.
And lest we take our efficient and cost-effective land title system for granted, the following excerpt from the Economist from September of 1994 gives an example of the alternative:
“In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, recording a property sale involves 21 procedures and takes 274 days. Official fees amount to 27% of the value of the transaction. Land in Nigeria, unsurprisingly, tends to be traded informally. Its owners typically cannot prove, legally, that they own it, so it is useless as collateral.”
By contrast, the LTSA has a core service target for Land Title Act instruments: that the average processing time does not exceed six business days. I do not have any official statistics, but based on anecdotal reports of the users in my office of the land title system, and in particular, the new E filing system, that target is being met and exceeded.
Surveys and Crown Grants
Land surveys are referred to as “cadastral”, which comes from the Latin word referring to the register of lands. Thus, the “cadastral fabric” of the Province refers to the property boundaries, survey monuments, legal documents maps and regulations required to make the system work.
The Office of the Surveyor General is legally responsible for overseeing B.C.’s land survey system, and works closely with the Association of B.C. Land Surveyors in approving cadastral survey standards developed by the Association. High quality cadastral surveys are critical for the integrity of the land title system, and in defining other important boundaries including: mine sites, oil and gas well sites, public roads, pipeline and utility corridors, protected areas and First Nation treaty settlement areas.
In the 153 years since J.D. Pemberton was appointed company surveyor for Vancouver Island by the Hudson’s Bay Company, surveyors have marked out a great deal of land in British Columbia, but it surprised me to learn that approximately 92% of the province is still owned by the Provincial government as Crown lands, and most of this is still unsurveyed.
Where Crown land is being surveyed, the Surveyor General reviews and approves individual land survey plans, and maintains an official copy of all Crown land survey plans. In an average year, approximately 2,000 Crown land surveys are reviewed and approved.
A Crown grant is the legal instrument that is used to transfer land from Crown ownership to private, fee simple ownership. This is the foundation of the private land ownership system we rely on. Thus it is critical that the initial Crown grant document contains a highly accurate plan showing the location and extent of the parcel granted, and a description of the terms and conditions of the land grant. The Authority expects to issue around 400 Crown grants each year. It maintains a hard copy and electronic record of every Crown grant issued in British Columbia, including the very earliest grants that were made before the province joined Confederation.
On-going improvements to the LTSA
1. Electronic Survey Plan Process
Each year, over 10,000 land survey plans are submitted to the Authority for review and approval. Previously, land surveyors produced legal survey plans in hard copy format on various mediums such as linen and mylar. These hard copy plans were then circulated to owners and approving authorities who must in turn physically sign the plans. When many signatures are required, the process was time consuming and expensive.
The Electronic Survey Plan Process has eliminated many of these steps. What once took weeks now can be completed in a matter of days. It has revolutionized submitting, handling and storing legal survey plans. Under the Electronic Survey Plan Process, a surveyor produces an electronic image in PDF of their survey plan and attests to its correctness by affixing an electronic signature. Then an application form is prepared which bears the names of all owners and approvers who must sign off. Each prints and signs the form and returns it by email, at which point a lawyer, notary or land surveyor attests to having a true copy with original signatures by electronically signing the original application form. The plan and form are then E-filed in the LTO.
2. First Nations Treaties
While the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the existence of aboriginal title, the courts of British Columbia have stated that…”aboriginal title does not fit within the scheme of current real property law in that it is not an interest in land contemplated by the Land Title Act….” (Mr. Justice Lamperson in Haida Nations v. B.C. (Minister of Forests)  1 CNLR 98 (B.C,C.A.)
There are two different land title concepts recognized in Canadian law, but they do not mesh with one another. Without treaties, aboriginal title falls outside our provincial land title system. The current B.C. Treaty process is the only place to reconcile the two conflicting concepts.
As an example of this reconciliation, paragraph 3 of Chapter 3 of the Nisga’a Final Agreement states:
“On the effective date, the Nisga’a Nation owns Nisga’a Lands in fee simple, being the largest estate known in law. This estate is not subject to any condition, proviso, restriction, exception, or reservation set out in the Land Act, or any comparable limitation under any federal or provincial law.”
As other treaties with First Nations are settled in B.C., it is expected that the Crown lands to be transferred to First Nations under the treaties will be surveyed and arrangements made for those parcels to be entered into the Authority’s land title and survey systems.
3. Other Initiatives
In 2016, the LTSA will introduce Parcel Activity Notifier which will alert customers when legal notifications, registered activity, builders’ liens, mortgages, judgements or other charges affect a parcel of land the customer has chosen to monitor. This provides customers with the convenience of being able to monitor certain properties and provide the ability to take immediate action upon receiving such notifications. Further, it will provide easier access to ordering related documents to address any concerns affecting title.
Also in 2016, the LTSA will be introducing a system for electronic delivery of State of Title Certificates. Once released, customers will be able to use a special web address and access code included on all State of Title Certificates to verify the content of a State of Title Certificate as issued by the Land Title Office for one year after its issue date. This provides the ability to receive a secure PDF of the State of Title Certificate.
The LTSA is always looking for ways to improve the system of land registration in BC and it is fair to say that they are ahead of the game. The process is constantly evolving to make transactions easier and more secure.
Contact Conor Zokol of DuMoulin Boskovich LLP for your legal needs.