Lag in Alberta land title transfers hits 4 months

Long delays in transferring property titles continue to frustrate people involved in real estate transactions in Alberta.

Service Alberta now returns incomplete applications, plans to hire more staff

for sale sign.
The Alberta Land Titles office is currently registering land title documents received four months ago. The growing processing delays have been frustrating Albertans involved in real estate transactions. (Sheryl Nadler/CBC)

Long delays in transferring land titles continue to frustrate people involved in real estate transactions in Alberta. 

Service Alberta told CBC News in May it was working to implement solutions to the backlog by the summer and expected wait times would decrease.

However, since the spring, the delay has stretched from about three months to four.

As of Thursday, according to the province's website, the land titles office was registering land title documents received on June 22 and survey plans and documents received on Aug. 12.

The delays are affecting people buying and selling properties, industries involved in those transactions, and municipalities' tax departments.

"We would like it to be faster but our hands are tied," said Paul Gravelle, chair of the Realtors Association of Edmonton.

A pain for lawyers and lenders

Carl Bösecke, a partner at Bösecke Law in Edmonton, said his firm often handles deals for people flipping homes. Those clients end up reselling homes before the title is registered in their names, he said.

"It becomes really complicated for new lenders to track all of the transactions that are not registered and then we spend a lot of time with title insurance companies, trying to explain to the people in Ontario why we're having so many problems in Alberta," he said.

Bösecke said in some cases, lenders have backed out of loans because of the delays. In one case, that cost one of his clients about $200,000.

Lawyers are recommending their clients buy title insurance to mitigate delays.

Lawyers collect money upon closing, but are not allowed to bill and deposit the funds into their own bank accounts until the title registration occurs, so title transfer delays have caused a cash flow problem for some.

In a news bulletin in August, the Law Society of Alberta said it had received several inquiries from real estate lawyers facing financial pressures due to delays in collecting fees on real estate transactions. 

Tax notices sent to old owners

Anton Szabo, director of policy and data quality with the City of Edmonton's assessment and taxation branch, said because of the land title delays, some supplemental assessment and tax notices have been sent to the owners on file instead of to the new buyers.

Szabo said the city sent out more notices and has asked real estate agents, home builders, lawyers and banks to pass on information to clients who recently bought property. 

"Though we can't truly measure how effective these actions have been, we continue to be as open, transparent and accessible as possible for all property owners," he said. 

Wes Price, who bought an Edmonton condo on June 30 and has yet to receive land title documents, told CBC News that providing the city and a property management company with additional documents to prove the sale was time-consuming and frustrating.

Albertans who recently bought a property, did not receive a tax notification from the municipality, but who later paid late penalties as a result may be eligible to receive the extra charges back from the province.

More staff to be hired

Service Alberta has attributed the land title delays to a surge in real estate registration documents over the past 18 months.

A ministry spokesperson said the government has increased staff by half and is planning another 20 per cent increase.

The government also recently launched a pilot project that returns incomplete packages before they enter the queue. This system is designed to save staff time, but the spokesperson said it's too soon to determine whether it's working. 

Call for modernization

Some lawyers are calling for a modernization of the land title registration system to bring Alberta's processing times more in line with those in other provinces. 

"B.C. has a much more efficient system than we do and so does Saskatchewan," Bösecke said. 

Service Alberta's spokesperson said a modernization project is in the works.


Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.