When a couple makes their home on realty where one only of the pair holds title/registered ownership (the "on-title spouse"), The Homesteads Act (Manitoba) (the "MHA") gives certain rights to the other spouse who is not on title (the "off-title spouse"). Where both spouses are on title, each of them has homestead rights in the realty. The rights with which this paper is concerned are the spouses' entitlements to insist that he or she either consents to any "disposition" of the realty (where one only of the spouses is on title), or, that no "disposition" be made unless both spouses execute an appropriate transfer (which would be the case where both spouses are on title). "Disposition" is defined in the MHA to include the "usually" encountered conveyances, namely transfers, mortgages, leasings, commitments to sell, options to purchase, grants of easements and the imposition of restrictive covenants of/upon realty. Interests in the nature of unilaterally or legally imposed liens (ie, judgment and builder's liens, etc.) are not considered to be "dispositions" for this purpose.
Where a third party proposes to deal with an on-title spouse and thereby acquire an interest in the realty, should the third party be concerned with the possibility that the transaction might be held to be void under the MHA by reason of the lack of a consent to the proposed transaction required to be given by the off-title spouse? The answer is "yes". Similarly, where a third party contemplates dealing with both spouses (both spouses being on title), the third party should be aware of the possibility that one of the persons being held or holding themselves out as being the other owner's spouse is not in fact the spouse of the co-owner. There have been a number of cases in which on-title spouses have misrepresented either the identity of their spouse, or the status of the realty in relation to the MHA requirements. Not that long ago, a case came before the Manitoba Courts in which an owner fooled his own lawyer into believing that a woman was his spouse, when in fact she was (along with him) a fraudster.
Section 5 of the MHA makes it clear that provided that the on-title spouse provides a third party with an affidavit, statutory declaration or a statement deemed to be given under solemn oath or affirmation by virtue of it being included/incorporated into a prescribed form of Manitoba Land Titles instrument, in which the on-title spouse states:
(i) that he or she is not married and not in a common-law relationship; or
(ii) that the person who has consented to the disposition is in fact the on-title spouse's spouse; or
(iii) that the land is not the on-title spouse's "homestead" (within the meaning of the MHA);
then, provided that the third party does not have knowledge to the contrary, the disposition in favour of the third party will not be void. Similarly, and although not specifically stated in the MHA, it would appear that where a third party deals with both spouses - both spouses being on title - the third party's acquisition cannot be challenged provided that the third party obtains (and relies on bona fide) an affidavit, declaration (or the equivalent) from both spouses that they are in fact spouses within the meaning of the MHA.
A careful reading of Section 5 of the MHA, including, in particular, subsection (3), indicates that not only can a bona fide third party rely on the provision of such sworn, declared or affirmed statements by the spouse(s) ("Homestead Evidence"), thus preserving the integrity of the disposition in favour of the third party, but also that the District Registrar at the relevant Land Titles Office is also entitled to rely on such Homestead Evidence. Note however that in order to be able to rely on such statements, they must be "…made by the person who executes the document or instrument respecting the disposition or by his or her attorney, or, if a person is not mentally capable, by his or her committee or substitute decision maker for property.".
Real estate lawyers are generally familiar with the foregoing, and in particular, when acting for purchasers or mortgagees, will require proper completion of a transaction's transfer or mortgage so as to include, in essence:
(a) an off-title spouse's consent, duly witnessed and acknowledged as required by the MHA, together with a statement (under oath or the equivalent of being under oath) that the person who consents is the on-title spouse's off-title spouse; or, as the case may be,
(b) a statement under oath (or the equivalent of being under oath) to the effect that the subject realty is not the transferor's (or mortgagor's) "homestead", or that the transferor (or mortgagor) has no spouse of any kind, or that, where both spouses are on title, that the spouses are in fact "spouses" (as defined in the MHA).
But what about the situation where a title holder has granted an easement or imposed a restrictive covenant on his/her land, or the title holder has granted an option to purchase his/her land, and, the grantee/dominant tenement or benefitted property owner (or optionee) registers its interest by way of caveat? Unlike a transfer or a mortgage - which clearly has to be signed by the on-title spouse (and by the off-title spouse where the off-title spouse's MHA consent is required), or, where both spouses are on title, has to be signed by both spouses, the grantee or beneficiary or optionee - not the grantor(s) - is the person who signs the caveat. The caveat is merely notice of the caveator's claimed or alleged interest - it does not itself create the interest. Execution and delivery of a mortgage, transfer, grant of option or grant of easement is what creates the interest. As an aside, execution and delivery as well as registration of a statutory easement are all required in order for a statutory easement to create a land interest.
In paragraph #4 of the current form of Land Titles Office mandated caveat, the government requires the caveator to state that:
"This caveat is not being filed for the purpose of giving notice of a disposition that is prohibited by section 4 of The Homesteads Act".
So if you are advising a third party taking - or proposing to take - an interest in land, in particular, where the land is in the name of one or more natural human beings, what can you do to minimize the risk that the caveat's paragraph #4 statement turns out to be incorrect? Before attempting to answer this question, bear in mind the following:
(a) Under The Manitoba Real Property Act, liability for filing a caveat claiming an interest when in fact no interest lawfully exists is based on a "reasonableness test". You must consider what is reasonable - in the circumstances - to claim the interest of which the caveat is to give notice, even if it later turns out that, for whatever reason - including failure of one or both of the on-title spouses to comply with the requirements of the MHA - there was no legally valid land interest in existence.
(b) In order to be criminally liable for making a false statement under oath (or under the equivalent of being under oath), the person making the statement must have knowingly (and probably in the alternative, recklessly) made a false statement.
(c) Section 5(4) of the MHA clearly provides that a disposition is not invalid "except against a person who, at the time he or she acquired an interest under the disposition, had actual knowledge of the untruth (of the statement) or actually "anticipated or colluded in fraud in respect of the disposition".
The crux of the problem that I am attempting to focus in on is the fact that as between the caveator and the spouse (or spouses) creating or granting a land interest in favour of the caveator, it is surely the spouse or spouses who have a better knowledge of their domestic situation than (at least in more cases) the caveator would have.
Counsel might consider the following:
(1) Where your client is acquiring a land interest under a grant or agreement, you can completely eliminate the need for you (or your client) to sign and register a caveat giving notice of your client's interest by ensuring that the grant or agreement itself is in the form approved by The Land Titles Office for the purpose of permitting the grant or agreement itself to be registered. The grant or agreement will be signed by the on-title spouse and can thus include the MHA statements required under Section 5 of the MHA. This will not, however, "work" in all cases, because some land interests are not capable of being registered by way of direct registration of the constituting grant or agreement against title, for example, most leases and options to purchase. In these cases, these interests can only be recorded on title by way of a caveat.
(2) It has been long recognized that where a lawyer counsels her/his client to sign a caveat, it is the client - not the lawyer - who should do the signing. However, the problem with this "solution" is that in many cases, your client will not have much more knowledge than you do as to the truthfulness and accuracy of the "other side's" statements.
(3) Ensure that the actual grant or agreement creating the land interest (which must in any event be signed by the grantor(s), or by one grantor with the grantor's off-title spouse properly consenting), includes therein appropriate MHA Section 5 statements, together with a space/provision for the off-title spouse to sign her/his consent, with an appropriate "acknowledgement". If that is done, then the recipient of the land interest can, at least with a substantial degree of assurance, make the statement contained in paragraph #4 of the caveat.
(4) Obtain a title insurance policy which indemnifies a caveator against loss arising by virtue of the caveator unintentionally making a false statement in paragraph #4 of the caveat. Presumably, a caveator would not make a paragraph #4 statement without at least getting some assurance from the registered owner that the MHA didn't apply or that its requirements were being met, so that the statement being made by the caveator would have been made honestly, but in reliance upon false assurances from the owner. However, in relying on a title insurance policy indemnification, counsel should be very careful to ensure that the "fine print" of the policy actually covers this situation. It may not always do so.