B.C. superintendent of real estate aims to protect consumers

British Columbia’s new superintendent of real estate Michael Noseworthy has made it clear that lines have now been drawn between his office and the real estate industry as he took control of the office Oct. 19 overseeing the public's interest in what has become B.C.'s most controversial industry.

“My job is to represent the public and protect the public and act for the public and their best interests,” says Noseworthy, a lawyer and government regulator, who takes on the over-sight role of the real estate industry and its regulatory body, the B.C. Real Estate Council.

Noseworthy's consumer protection stance continues the hard line taken by Premier Christy Clark when the Liberals became embroiled in real estate controversy for failing to provide the needed regulation framework to stop shadow-flipping by real estate agents. Clark responded by passing a law to prohibit it, implementing tough new financial penalties for realtors and the firms, dismissing the board members of the Council, removing the real estate industry's right to self-regulate, and creating Noseworthy's full-time position.

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Noseworthy arrived in B.C. from the Yukon where he served as a senior government regulator, holding a variety of positions. He worked as a lawyer in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to his work with the Government of Yukon, in a private practice that included real estate law and administrative law. He received both his law degree and a bachelor of arts in political science from Dalhousie University.

The new superintendent said he will be working to ensure the 28 recommendations put forward by the Industry Advisory Group led by Carolyn Rogers, then CEO of the Financial Institutions Commission of B.C. and endorsed by the B.C. government are implemented. The IAG recommendations looked at what was wrong with the real estate industry and its provincial regulatory body, the Council. The advisory group included members of the legal profession including Howard Kushner (Kushner Law Group), Bruce D. Woolley, Q.C. (Stikeman Elliott LLP), and Ron Usher, general counsel, Society of Notary Public of B.C.

The 28 recommendations set out needed changes in three areas: the provincial government should make to its laws, changes to the Council and recommendations for the superintendent's office.   

Amongst the amendments that impacted the BC Real Estate Services Act were increased penalties and eradicating any ability to shadow-flip properties between buyers without the seller's knowledge. Maximum fines have increased from $10,000 for agents and $20,000 for agencies to $250,000 for agents and $500,000 for agencies and $50,000 administrative fines under the Act.

The new nine-member council board appointed Oct. 12 will be chaired by lawyer Robert D. Holmes, Q.C., a trial and litigation lawyer. Only two of the nine members have real estate industry involvement.

Noseworthy said he is confident that the new Council can provide the guidance and knowledge required to make the needed IAG changes that relate to the Council's role to regulate and licence brokers.

While all 28 recommendations are important, Noseworthy there are two main concerns. He wants to ensure that shadow-flipping is halted, but also wants to address the issue of dual-agency participation, where an agent represents both buyer and seller.

The BC Real Estate Association, representing 11 regional real estate board, have responded to the 28 recommendations with a report that has been issued to Noseworthy's new office. The provincial association's concern is that not permitting dual agencies, especially in rural areas may limit agents. 

As Noseworthy moves deeper into his role and watch-dogs the pieces of a reshaped regulatory system, he is expected to draw national attention. "There will be people right across Canada watching to see what we do here," says Damian Stathonikos, BCREA spokesperson.

Noseworthy remains committed. "My whole career has been about protecting the public, something I am passionate about and the reason I come to work every day,” he says.

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