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The unintended consequences of Canada’s foreign homebuyer ban

Canada’s foreign homebuyer ban may have unintended consequences that could harm the real estate market and beyond, warns Benjamin Tal, managing director and deputy chief economist for CIBC Capital Markets Inc. 

The “Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act,” which came into effect on January 1st, prohibits non-Canadians from purchasing residential property for two years. The goal was to take pressure off the price of housing and improve affordability. 


Confusing and ambiguous language


However, in a weekly memo, Tal highlights that the language of the legislation has created ambiguity and confusion, leading to unintended consequences.

The economist writes, “The language of the Act appears straightforward until you show it to a lawyer,”

Tal explains that the definition of “residential property” is broader than most people would expect. It includes any developed or vacant land that does not contain a habitable dwelling, is zoned for residential or mixed-use, and is located within a census metropolitan area. 

This means legislation includes commercial real estate assets on land zoned for residential or mixed-use, encompassing the entire downtown Toronto area. 

Additionally, based on the language, it prohibits non-Canadians from purchasing farmland located within a census metropolitan area, which may not have been the intended target.

The economist writes, “While real estate lawyers are smiling, the rest of the industry is not. We have been in contact with many real estate players in recent weeks. The damage is real.”

The unintended consequences of the foreign homebuyer ban have already been felt, with many commercial real estate deals being cancelled or placed on hold, even those unrelated to residential housing, writes Tal. 


Projects cancelled or on hold


Developers that are partly foreign-owned or rely on foreign equity are unable to proceed with purpose-built developments, which Tal argues are the most effective tool to tackle Canada’s housing affordability crisis. 

The Act is also having a negative impact on REITs, which Taj says are “by far the most capable and motivated potential builder of purpose-built units.”

The economist believes the legislation may harm not only the real estate market but also other industries, such as private equity funds with minority foreign investors trying to acquire shares in a manufacturing or pipeline business located on land zoned as residential or mixed-use.

Tal is calling on the government to make changes, writing, “Policymakers should immediately take another look and amend the Act in a way that is consistent with what it was intended to achieve — focusing only on single units being purchased by foreigners while exempting development of new supply from the impact of the new legislation.”

Read the full memo here.