Electronic Filing – What Is It? How Does It Work?
Since 2004, the B.C. Land Title and Survey Authority (the “LTSA”) has been implementing and refining the Electronic Filing System (“EFS”). As the name suggests, EFS provides the means for land title documents and survey plans to be filed in the Land Title Office electronically, rather than in paper format. At the beginning, EFS was limited to simpler documents, such as the Form A Freehold Transfer, but recently its scope has expanded to include the full range of documents and plans.
One of the key elements of EFS, and something that sets EFS apart from traditional paper filing, is the digital signature. A digital signature is a form of secure electronic certification that can only be obtained by a “subscriber”, which means a lawyer, notary or land surveyor practicing in British Columbia. Documents and plans submitted through EFS must be digitally signed by a subscriber.
With respect to documents, such as Form A Freehold Transfers and Form C Charges (including Rights of Way and Covenants), for example, the process leading up to electronic filing remains very much the same. A paper copy of the document must still be signed by the parties, and their signatures witnessed in the usual manner. The subscriber will then prepare a PDF version of the document, with the signing information typed into the form (the parties’ signatures are not scanned), and will apply his or her digital signature to certify that the electronic version is correct and complete.
In the case of plans, the parties no longer sign an original mylar plan, but are provided with a printed paper copy of the plan, and sign a separate application form to deposit the plan. To ensure security, the application form and the electronic plan share a unique control number assigned to the plan when it is certified by the land surveyor. Once the application has been signed by all parties, the subscriber will digitally sign and submit an electronic version of the application along with the certified electronic plan.
Once submitted through EFS, documents and plans are processed, in all practical respects, in the same manner as traditional paper filings.
Advantages of EFS
There are several advantages to EFS, including environmental sustainability. EFS can reduce the number of paper copies of documents required to complete a transaction. It also cuts down on the need for subscribers to courier documents to the appropriate Land Title Office, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Speed is another advantage. In urgent circumstances, EFS can help to expedite a transaction. In some cases it is possible for a subscriber to submit through EFS on the basis of a faxed or scanned copy of the signatures of the parties. A prudent subscriber will always require the faxed or scanned copy to be followed by the original signatures as soon as possible, and will only proceed on the basis of a faxed or scanned copy when the source is trustworthy; however, the potential exists to move quickly when necessary. This is particularly crucial when multiple parties are required to sign a document or plan application. The subscriber can arrange for all of the parties to sign copies simultaneously, rather than circulating a single set of originals. This ability can also be helpful when distance is a factor, as is the case for many communities in British Columbia. Under normal circumstances, a subscriber will typically insist on receiving the originally signed document before submitting through EFS.
Efficiency is the other key advantage of EFS. The LTSA is using EFS to enhance the efficiency of its processing of submissions, and on the subscriber’s end of things, it allows pending registration numbers to be obtained in a matter of seconds following submission. In addition, subscribers receive prompt electronic notification when an application reaches final registration. EFS also allows for the submission of documents through BC Online during much longer hours than traditional paper filing. The hours are 6:00 a.m. to 10:50 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. to 10:50 p.m. on Sunday.
Mandatory Electronic Filing and Exemptions
Earlier this year, the LTSA officially announced the implementation of mandatory electronic filing, which will occur in several phases. Phase 1, beginning July 1, 2011, represents a modest step. It will require all posting plans to be submitted through EFS. Posting plans are survey plans that establish the boundaries of an existing parcel of land.
Phase 2, which comes into effect on July 16, 2012, represents a larger step. Beginning on that date, unless one of a limited number of exemptions applies, all Form A Freehold Transfers, Form B Mortgages, Form C Charges and Form C Releases will have to be submitted through EFS.
For the time being, an exemption to mandatory EFS will apply to local governments. Traditional paper filing of Forms A, B and C will continue to be permitted for local governments, in cases where the local government is the applicant and is the owner of the interest in respect of which the application is being made. This exemption may, however, be affected by future directions issued by the Director of Land Titles. Consultation with UBCM is ongoing and announcements concerning future phases of mandatory EFS implementation are expected as early as the fall of 2011.
While electronic filing is not yet mandatory for local governments, it is quickly becoming standard procedure. Lawyers, notaries and land surveyors are increasingly embracing EFS as an efficient business tool. The LTSA reports that as of March, 2011, 58.2% of all land title applications are being submitted through EFS. With mandatory EFS soon to arrive, that number will increase dramatically.
Staples McDannold Stewart has been using EFS for several years, and it is a routine part of our practice. Our lawyers and staff have the training and experience to handle EFS submissions of all kinds, and are ready, willing and able to assist our clients with all of their EFS needs.