Skirmish in title insurance wars over quickly

Ontario’s title insurance wars flared up and then quickly extinguished last month as the Title Insurance Industry Association of Canada asked the government to look at removing independent lawyers from a step in the process.

In a letter to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan in the fall, the association asked him to reconsider what it says is a “unique regulation” in the Insurance Act that requires a lawyer not employed by the title insurer to certify title before it issues a policy. “This regulation has not been reviewed since the mid-1990s and as such is not in step with changes in residential conveyancing in Ontario,” association acting president Patrick Squire wrote to Duncan.

Squire noted several factors, including the province’s eagerness to reduce tape and unnecessary costs, to back up its request. As well, it referred to the “conflict of interest of the Law Society of Upper Canada as a regulator and operator of title insurance and their ability to audit and investigate lawyers hired by title insurers to comply with this regulation.”

As such, he asked that, at a minimum, “we are seeking the ability to use our own in-house lawyers.”

LawPRO, the insurance arm of the LSUC that owns and operates TitlePLUS, criticized the proposal in a letter last month. “Ensuring consumers have access to expert legal advice and guidance when they purchase a home (likely their most expensive single investment) is fundamental to effective consumer protection,” said LawPRO president and CEO Kathleen Waters in her response. TitlePLUS is not part of the association.

In its letter, the association noted the LSUC had no opposition to its idea of reviewing the regulation. But in a note on its web site last month, the LSUC indicated that it supports the rule. “Since the mid-1990s, we have maintained the position that consumers must have access to expert independent legal advice and guidance when purchasing a home,” it said.

For its part, the association quickly responded with a letter to Duncan withdrawing its request for a review of the regulation. The latest battle over lawyers’ roles in title insurance, then, appears to have been more of a skirmish.

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