CAN A LAWYER BE A BROKER?

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1 CAN A LAWYER BE A BROKER? By: Paul Mayer of the law firm of Fasken Martineau Recent court decisions have clearly shown that, legally, a lawyer can only be paid a commission for a real estate brokerage transaction if the work he performs is an incidental part of a mandate given by his client for legal work. The Real Estate Brokerage Act (the Act ) grants real estate brokers and their agents a quasi-exclusive right to engage in real estate brokerage transactions for remuneration. The Act specifically provides that no person may pursue the activities of a real estate broker or agent, unless he is the holder of a real estate broker s or a real estate agent s certificate issued by the Association des Courtiers et Agents Immobiliers du Québec ( ACAIQ ). For the purposes of the Act, a person is deemed to engage in a real estate brokerage transaction when, for compensation and for others, he acts as a broker (intermediary) in respect of dealings such as transactions relating to the purchase, sale, lease or exchange of immoveable property, loans that are secured by an immovable hypothec, and the bulk purchase or sale of a stock-in-trade. Lawyers and Notaries Are Not Subject to the Act The Act specifies, however, that advocates and notaries who in the course of their practice, engage in a [brokerage] transaction are not subject to the Act. Thus, within the narrow confines of this exclusion, lawyers and notaries who carry out a real estate brokerage transaction may receive a commission without being members of the ACAIQ or being subject to the rules and duties imposed by the Act. Before it was amended in 1994, the Brokerage Act provided that lawyers and notaries without a real estate brokerage permit could legally engage in brokerage transactions as long as

2 - 2 - they were practicing, that is, as long as they were members in good standing of their respective professional orders. The transaction did not need to be carried out by lawyers or notaries in the course of their practice. The more restrictive wording of the Act adopted in 1994 specifies that in order for lawyers and notaries to legally engage in a real estate brokerage transaction, they must do so as part of the legal services being rendered to their client. In order to be legal, the brokerage work must be an incidental part of the legal work that was mandated. Can a Lawyer and a Notary Wear Two Hats? Can lawyers and notaries obtain a real estate broker s or agent s certificate, submit to the provisions of the Act and engage in real estate brokerage transactions outside the boundaries of their legal practice? Nothing in the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec that governs lawyers, prevents them from holding a real estate brokerage certificate issued by ACAIQ and carrying out a real estate brokerage transaction that is entirely unrelated to a specific legal mandate. The former Code of ethics of notaries established that the duties of real estate brokers or agents were incompatible with the profession of notary. The current Notarial Act and Code of ethics of notaries make no reference to this incompatibility, leading to the conclusion that a notary may now exercise both professions. Due to the particular nature of a notary s relationship with his client, however, some ethical issues do need to be considered. Unlike a lawyer who represents the interests of one client in a transaction, a notary is expected to act in the best interests of both parties he is overseeing. A section of the Code of ethics of notaries stipulates that the advice given by a notary to a client or to the parties to an act must be disinterested, frank and honest. The Code of ethics also has this to say about conflicts of interest: No notary may be in the situation of conflict of interest.

3 - 3 - A notary is in a situation of conflict of interest where the interests are such that he may be inclined to give preference to some of them, or his judgment or loyalty may be unfavourably affected. As soon as the notary finds himself in a conflict of interest, he shall cease to perform his duties. A notary who is involved in an arrangement where his commission is a percentage of the sale price of a property or the rental of the premises may find it difficult to remain disinterested or avoid placing himself in conflict of interest. The ACAIQ v. Hudon, v. Hudon, v. Hudon The ACAIQ has been particularly active in prosecuting Notary Jean-Pierre Hudon and his partner in Sept-Îles for engaging in what they consider to be illegal real estate brokerage activities. The 1999 Court of Québec case ACAIQ v. Jean-Pierre Hudon, upheld in 2000 by the Superior Court, concerns a matter where Hudon acted as a notary for a friend s widow. During the settlement of his friend s estate, the widow asked Hudon to take care of the sale of her house. They entered into an exclusive mandate in which Hudon would receive a 6% commission on the sale of the house. Hudon put up a For Sale sign on the property that listed his name and phone number as contact person. The ACAIQ took proceedings against him for what they considered was the offence of having practiced the profession of real estate broker without a certificate. The ACAIQ argued that the principal function of a notary is to draft and review deeds and contracts. When the notary acted as a broker in the sale of the property in question, the ACAIQ considered that this was not in the course of his practice, nor was it within the scope of the Notarial Act. The Superior Court upheld the Court of Québec decision acquitting Hudon of the charges that he had illegally engaged in a brokerage transaction. The Court held that since the mandate to sell the property had been conferred on Hudon within the larger framework of legal

4 - 4 - work that consisted in setling the deceased s succession, it was difficult to conclude that Hudon was not acting in the course of his practice. Evidently emboldened by that decision and the lure of additional income, Notary Hudon continued engaging in real estate brokerage activities. In the August 2004 Court of Québec s case of ACAIQ v. Jean-Pierre Hudon, upheld by the Superior Court in February 2005, Hudon was this time found guilty of carrying out or attempting to carry out, without a licence, two real estate brokerage transactions that were held to be outside the scope of his notarial practice. In that case, Hudon had sought and secured two exclusive brokerage contracts to sell parcels of land in Sept-Îles on behalf of two different persons. In both cases it was shown that he was not involved in any of the legal work that goes with the sale of a property, nor did he have a mandate to review the titles to the properties or to prepare the deed of sale. The Court concluded that there was no proof that notary Hudon had received a mandate for anything other than the sale of the properties, and found him guilty of the offence. The 2004 Court of Québec decision, ACAIQ v. Laurent St-Pierre, yet again involves Notary Hudon. Here, Notary Hudon met with a client to get her to sign a document. During their meeting, he learned that she was going to move away from Sept-Îles. He introduced her to his partner, Laurent St-Pierre, telling her that St-Pierre could handle the sale of her house. She signed an exclusive mandate with St-Pierre to sell her house in exchange for a 6% commission of the sale price. There was a clause in the mandate which stipulated that the deed of sale would be signed before a notary of his notarial firm. A few days later, St-Pierre advised her that there was a potential purchaser interested in visiting the property, but given that he was unwell, the visit would be delayed. A few days later, inquiring about the progress being made, she contacted Hudon and was told that he would handle the sale himself given St-Pierre s poor health. When she left Sept-Îles, she went to Hudon s office and gave him the keys to her house. She subsequently received two offers to purchase through Hudon, but as these were for amounts well below her asking price, she refused them. Ultimately, the property was leased by someone with an option to purchase. Hudon prepared a lease with an option to purchase clause. Afterwards, the client received an invoice from St-Pierre charging the fees that were stipulated in the exclusive mandate in the event the property was leased.

5 - 5 - The Court found St-Pierre guilty of the offence of engaging in a real estate brokerage transaction without being a licensed agent or broker. It also found that the legal work done in this file was incidental to the brokerage transaction, which is contrary to law. It held that, in order to be legal, a brokerage transaction carried out by a notary must not be the principal aspect of a file received from the client. Suddenly, a Lawyer Appears in the Transaction The February 2005 Québec Court case of ACAIQ v. Raymond Carrier concerns the sale of a property, known as Auberge du Lac, by the municipality of St-Gédéon in the Lac St-Jean region. The municipality announced in a local newspaper that it wanted to sell the property. Two individuals, including Serge Lavoie, an accountant, approached the municipality and convinced them that they were credible and really had a client interested in the property. Lavoie told the municipality that he would have a letter prepared evidencing that he had a mandate to sell the property. A few days later, the municipality received a draft mandate letter from a Québec City law firm, Massicotte Carrier. The document authorized M tre Raymond Carrier to sell the property in exchange for an 8% commission on the purchase price. The municipality adopted a resolution to sign the letter, even though they had never heard of Carrier before. Why did Lavoie do this? We can surmise that, since he was not a real estate agent or broker, he thought he could use a lawyer to receive payment of his commission because the Act stipulates that lawyers are not subject to the Act. After numerous negotiations between Lavoie and the municipality, a company represented by Mario Laquerre purchased the property. Carrier was never involved in the negotiations. When the matter was closed, the municipality received and paid the invoices received from Massicotte Carrier for the brokerage fee agreed upon in the commission agreement. The ACAIQ took action against Carrier for what they considered were illegal brokerage activities. The Court held that Carrier had carried out a brokerage transaction without being a

6 - 6 - licensed real estate broker. It also found that he could not benefit from the exemption stipulated in the Act given that he did not act as a real estate broker within the broader scope of legal work for the municipality. Finally, in another case, in July 2005, M tre Jocelyn Langlois pleaded guilty to illegally exercising the profession of a real estate broker because he acted as a broker for the sale of a property on West Hill Avenue in Montreal. He paid a fine of five hundred dollars, as well as court costs. Why not Call It a Finder s Fee Instead? Can the lawyer of a notary be paid a finder s fee for merely finding and referring a clients if that referral leads to a real estate brokerage transaction? That no one may pay a finder s fee to someone who does not hold a real estate broker s or agent s certificate is accepted law in Québec. No person may receive payment for having referred a client or for having directly or indirectly participated with a real estate broker or agent in a real estate transaction without a certificate, as he would be doing indirectly what he is prohibited from doing directly. Consequences of Carrying Out a Real Estate Transaction Without a Certificate There are two potentially undesirable outcomes for a lawyer or a notary who carries out a real estate brokerage transaction without being a member of the ACAIQ when such a transaction is not being carried out in the course of their practice : 1. There is a real danger that they will not be paid the agreed commission; and 2. They can be found guilty of an offence under the Act and sentenced to pay a fine and court costs.

7 - 7 - As we have seen, the ACAIQ does not hesitate to institute legal proceedings against those they believe are practicing real estate brokerage illegally. Holding a real estate brokerage certificate is absolutely necessary in order to carry out a brokerage transaction. Many court decisions have maintained that a person who does not have a real estate brokerage certificate cannot enforce his claim for a commission in the event he does not get paid, his contract being deemed null and void as a consequence of going against public order. The 1977 Court of Appeal s case of Gérald Landry v. Joseph Cunial ruled that a contract in which Mr. Cunial undertook to pay Mr. Landry a commission of $100,000 for having obtained a $6 million mortgage loan was null and void because Mr. Landry was not a licensed real estate broker. The Court held that the contract was in violation of the Brokerage Act, which prohibited Mr. Landry from engaging in a brokerage transaction involving a loan secured by a hypothec unless he held the required license. The lesson here is that anyone involved in a real estate brokerage transaction who does not hold a certificate is bound by the penal provisions set out in the Act. Anyone convicted of an offence is liable to pay a fine of no less than $500 and no more than $10,000, in the case of a natural person, or no less than $1,000 and no more than $25,000, in the case of a legal person (a company).

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