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British Columbia Unlike British Columbia, Ontario real estate to stay self-regulated

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced this week her government is taking back control of the real estate industry.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Ontario has no plans to change how Canada's second-hottest real estate market is governed, with its self-regulating body arguing it already has many of the safeguards that have been missing in British Columbia, where the industry has just lost the right to police itself.

Real estate agents in Ontario are licensed, investigated and disciplined by an agency run by their peers: the Real Estate Council of Ontario.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced this week that her government is taking back control of the industry, removing the Real Estate Council of British Columbia's ability to regulate agents and brokerages. The province had been under pressure to act since a series of Globe investigations found the province's regulator failed to protect home buyers and sellers from unethical realtors.

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Marie-France Lalonde, Ontario's Minister of Government and Consumer Services, said the province has no plans to change the role of the real estate council, whose jurisdiction includes Toronto, where the frothy housing market is also raising concerns about speculation, soaring prices and the possible realtor misconduct that comes with such conditions.

"We recognize the significant and effective role that the Real Estate Council of Ontario plays in regulating Ontario's busy real estate industry and in enhancing consumer protection," Ms. Lalonde said in an e-mailed statement. "Our government is not considering changes to Ontario's real estate regulation model at this time."

British Columbia's overhaul came after an independent panel called for widespread change within the industry, concluding the Real Estate Council of B.C. is dominated by industry members who took disciplinary action reluctantly and tentatively.

While the panel did not recommend ending self-regulation, as that larger issue was outside its mandate, it did raise concerns about the role of real estate boards and trade associations. The boards have their own parallel – and private – discipline process.

The panel said the province's 11 local real estate boards should relinquish this "quasi-regulatory" role, because they wield too much power in policing realtors, and the two separate tracks for complaints cause too much confusion for consumers. (In its 2015 annual report, a council survey of real estate clients found only 30 per cent of respondents knew how to file a complaint with the regulator.)

The Real Estate Council of B.C. currently includes 17 members, three of which come from outside the industry. The panel recommended it be split evenly between the industry and outside. The B.C. government has promised to go further, with a majority of non-industry members.

Three of the Ontario council's 12 directors come from outside the industry.

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The registrar of the Ontario council, Joe Richer, said his self-regulating body made many of the changes recommended in British Columbia long ago. That includes taking over any complaint from a member of the public regarding a realtor from the province's more than 40 local real estate boards, he said. "What's happening in B.C. really is very very similar to what happened to Ontario in the mid-1990s," Mr. Richer said. "I'm pleased [that], by my tally, at least two-thirds of [the improvements B.C. is committing to] Ontario is already doing in whole, or in part."

Dan Morrison, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said his private association is eager to help the province make the "progressive" changes, including creating just one track for consumer complaints.

"We're happy not to get those phone calls," said Mr. Morrison, whose board grants access to the MLS listings system for 12,800 of the region's realtors. "The [thousands of agents] in Greater Vancouver were unfairly tarred with a negative brush this week because of the actions of a few who allegedly failed to act in the best interests of their clients."

Earlier this year, the Greater Vancouver board voted to increase its maximum fines to $30,000, but its disciplinary decisions are kept secret, even from those who submitted the complaints.

British Columbia's finance ministry is working to implement the 28 recommendations from the independent panel, foremost of which is creating a new, expanded office of the Superintendent of Real Estate and hiring a replacement for the current superintendent, Carolyn Rogers, who is leaving for a new job in Ottawa regulating the banking sector.

In the meantime, consumers such as Sukhjit Bassi of Richmond, B.C., are wondering what will happen to complaints they made to the real estate council. Mr. Bassi filed a complaint two months ago alleging one of New Coast Realty's top realtors deceived him, selling his house for less than market value to a speculator with whom she had arranged deals before. "I don't mind my complaint just getting closed and nothing happens, as long as these guys are now regulated properly," Mr. Bassi said.

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With reports from Karen K. Ho, Jane Taber and Kathy Tomlinson

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