Lin vs. CIBC and the value of title insurance in British Columbia

Mar 4th, 2016 | By John Tracy

The case of Lin vs. CIBC has been stirring up a fair bit of interest in the B.C. legal community recently, not only because of the precedent it set, but also due to the fact that according to the Lawyer Herald website, it has now grown into an $8 million fraud case.

This case is very important because it helps answer the question which innocent party bears the loss when mortgage funds are stolen.

According to the Herald, the trouble began in 2013 when Agatha Chung was hired by Hsui-Wen Lin and Min Sheng Tang to refinance a mortgage in the amount of $520,000. These funds were to be used to pay off their existing mortgage at a different institution as well as certain small unsecured debts, with the balance going to the borrowers. Lin and Tang applied for a loan from CIBC and the transactions were managed by CIBC’s lawyer along with Chung acting for the borrowers. However, once CIBC paid the funds to Chung, she vanished along with Lin and Tang’s money. What came next was to decide who actually held that loss: Lin and Tang or CIBC?

In the trial decision, Supreme Court Judge John Steeves ruled that CIBC’s mortgage was invalid, despite the fact that it was properly signed and registered.  The trial court decision was upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal on December 18, 2015.  The Court of Appeal specifically upheld the ruling that CIBC’s mortgage was invalid on the basis that the borrowers received no consideration for the mortgage and that the money still belonged to CIBC at the time it was stolen.  For more on this case, you can read The Vancouver Sun article Notary fraud case causing legal waves in B.C. courts.  

The growing problem of real estate fraud

Through the course of my day as legal counsel at FCT, I see —first-hand — that fraud continues to be a growing problem in Canada. I can tell you that fraudsters come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. And although it is not overly common for legal counsel to be involved in fraudulent transactions, it does happen, as in the case of Lin and Tang. While title insurance can’t protect you against becoming a victim of fraud, it can and does protect you after the fact by minimizing the financial impact and stress associated with this type of crime.  FCT’s lender policy covers, amongst other things, losses arising from “the invalidity or unenforceability of the insured mortgage upon the title” which is exactly what happened to CIBC in this case.

And it appears that the Law Society of British Columbia agrees.

A recent Practice Resource distributed by the Law Society of British Columbia in February of this year supports FCT’s view on the importance of title insurance during real estate transactions in British Columbia. In response to the Lin v. CIBC ruling, the Law Society recommends five points to safeguard lawyers and their lending clients, including point number four (4), which reads:

  1. Consider whether to recommend closing of certain transactions with title insurance or through some other mechanism, such as escrow, that will protect your client.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see this in print! After years of promoting the benefits of title insurance across the country, it’s very rewarding to know that others in the Canadian legal community also see its value and are recommending it as an aid in the fight against fraud.

Speaking of fraud, as we enter Fraud Prevention Month, I invite you to take part in FCT’s fraud chat on Twitter taking place on March 31st, 2016 featuring our very own certified fraud examiner, Marie Taylor. Plus if you have any fraud tips or stories you’d like to share, please do so by commenting below.