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Private Company Owns Your Real Estate Information

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 22 June 2004 00:00

Ontario property owners who are not aware that their real estate dealings are now part of the electronic information barrage on the Internet, may be further surprised to learn that details of their real estate holdings are part of a huge database overseen by a private company, with government support.

Ontario's electronic land registration system, developed by Teranet, handled a new record of close to 17,000 electronic land registrations in one day on April 30, 2004. That represents an average of 33 transactions per minute or 0.55 transactions per second. On May 31, Teranet logged the registration of its 3 millionth document using the Teraview software. In the Ontario counties where electronic land registration is available, 95 per cent of all registrations are now submitted electronically.

Lawyers, conveyancers, financial institutions and other users are no longer required to actually visit local Land Registry Offices to register purchases, mortgages and other real estate transactions; instead they can access land titles electronically.

In 1991, Teranet Inc. , then a collaboration between the public and private sectors, was established to update the complex paper-based land registration system of over four million parcels of land that had served Ontario for more than 200 years. Last year Teramira Holdings Inc., the private consortium that owns Teranet, purchased the Government of Ontario's founding 50 per cent stake for C$370 million to become sole owner of Teranet. Reportedly, major Teramira shareholders have included Hospital of Ontario Pension Plan, CBC Pension Fund, McGill University Pension Plan, and the Montreal Police Pension plan.

"The government no longer needs to own an asset in order to provide Ontarians with the services they need," said then Finance Minister Janet Ecker announcing the 2003 sale of Teranet. "This is a sound business agreement consistent with the [Conservative] government's 2003 Budget commitment, to ensure that public assets are managed in the public's best interest. I am pleased that the system will continue to be improved and expanded without investing taxpayers' money."

Teranet volumes continue to grow.

"It took almost three years to register the first million documents, so reaching two million in less than a year is remarkable," said Bonnie Foster, Vice President, of Teranet's Corporate Communications and Government Relations last October when announcing that it took only 10 months to double volumes from 1 million land registration documents. "This is a strong industry endorsement of our automated land registration system."

The volume of registrations is expected to continue to grow as the roll-out of electronic land registration continues and implementation begins in Northern Ontario with Sudbury, Rainy River and Cochrane scheduled to come online in August 2004. Automated records are now available in 27 of the province's 54 land registry offices.

At the same time, Teranet is more than half way through another electronic registration undertaking: the Ontario Parcel Project.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Teranet each separately collect and maintain some of the data required to create a province-wide Ontario Parcel data set. This includes MPAC's province-wide manual parcel mapping, components of the Ontario Government's Crown land and Ontario Base Mapping databases and Teranet's existing automated ownership parcel mapping (2.8+ million properties). The goal of the business agreement between these three groups, that are jointly investing C$8.5 million, is "to produce, maintain and make available standardized digital parcel mapping for Ontario: the Ontario Parcel database. The database will contain assessment and either ownership or Crown parcel land data, depending on the area."

Ontario's municipalities will be the primary users of the Ontario Parcel database -- a one-stop source of assessment/ownership/Crown parcel mapping that can be used for assessment, taxation, land registration and management, as well as land use and business planning. For municipalities that currently use Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the shift from maintaining parcel data should reduce costs. Municipalities that do not have GIS capability will move closer to adopting new land-information technologies which will enhance planning activities and improve economic development endeavours. Municipalities will be able to obtain a licence to use the database at no cost.

The Ontario Parcel database is being built region by region with province-wide completion expected in summer/fall 2004.

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