Picture this. You have a Monday deadline for e-filing a document and you’ve assured everyone that it will be e-filed first thing on Monday morning. It looks good – what could go wrong?
It seems obvious, but successful electronic filing depends on the required technology working properly. I am not a technology expert by any means, so this post is only about the very basics of “technology” in the context of e-filing. How does it work? What factors can create problems and what can you do?
In order to use the system, a user must have computer hardware with the required capabilities (e.g. processing speed, memory, operating system compatible with Adobe Acrobat), an acceptable version of Adobe Acrobat software and the prescribed electronic form, and the electronic form must be properly prepared, saved and digitally signed, and submitted electronically to BC Online via an internet connection, either directly or through a registry agent. The Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia (the “LTSA”) has prescribed the requirements for these matters and it is the user’s responsibility to comply. A deficiency in any one of these components can cause a problem.
When the electronic form is received, the system checks a number of things, including the validity of the parcel identifier number and digital signature, and that the application meets certain pre-programmed business rules. If accepted, the electronic form will show the date and time of acceptance and an application number that will show as a pending application against the title to the subject property. If rejected, you will get an error message that may be specific (e.g. certain required information is missing or parcel identifier number is wrong) or indicate a more general problem (e.g. that the digital signature is missing or not valid, which may be a problem with the digital signature or a more general problem indicating a corrupt electronic form).
The filing system is not entirely electronic as there is still an examination by LTSA staff to ensure that the electronic form complies with other requirements. If it does, registration is completed and recorded on the property title effective as of the date and time it was electronically submitted. If it doesn’t, then a defect notice is issued allowing 31 days for rectification (which may be extended on request), failing which the application will be cancelled and priority of registration is lost.
What factors can create problems and what can you do?
If there is an LTSA system problem or business interruption generally affecting the ability of users to submit electronic forms for registration, the LTSA will allow you to submit by e-mail, fax or hand delivery. Typically in circumstances like this occurring during regular business hours, you do not need to submit the printed copy of the electronic form with the parties’ original signatures (e.g. the “true copy”) to get a registration number, but you will have to provide the true copy in due course. Depending on the extent of the problem, you will likely have to submit within the LTSA’s normal hours for paper filing (e.g. by 3 p.m.) unless these hours are extended or you make special arrangements for later filing.
If there is a problem with the user’s computer system or electronic form, it may be easy to resolve or it may take some time. For example, if you have submitted the electronic form and received a clear error message directing you to the correction required, then you are in luck. You can revise the unsigned version of the electronic form (always keep an unsigned version on your system, e.g. final version before digital signature is applied), or prepare the form again, get it digitally signed and submit.
If you are having a problem with your computer system affecting your ability to submit electronically or you’ve submitted but received an error message that is not easily deciphered, then it may take time to figure out what’s going on. Here are some of the possibilities:
- There has been an upgrade to your computer system – this can affect e-filing even when the upgrade seems completely unrelated. If you upgrade to a higher version of the Adobe Acrobat software, you may have a problem applying a valid digital signature;
- You have used an old version of a prescribed form or have copied over and re-used a form that has been filed, such as a property transfer tax form;
- The electronic form has become corrupted – this may be due to the way the form has been opened and saved. The error message won’t say it’s corrupted, but may indicate a problem with the digital signature (e.g. person not registered, digital signature is missing when there is clearly one, etc.). Be careful if you are working remotely and/or e-mailing electronic forms so that others can work on them or apply the digital signature; or
- There is a problem with the digital signature – it was not downloaded properly when it was obtained, it was not saved properly, or it has expired or been revoked.
If you have not had any computer changes and the digital signature is a valid one that has recently been accepted, then it is likely that the electronic form has become corrupted in some way and the solution may be to prepare a new form, have it digitally signed and try to submit it again. However, if you are trying to meet a tight deadline, you can make a written request to the registrar to submit the electronic form manually (see DR 06-11 “Director’s Requirements to File Land Title Forms Electronically”), but you must submit the printed copy of the electronic form with original signatures (e.g. the “true copy”), not a faxed/scanned/e-mailed copy, prior to 3 p.m. unless you make special arrangements with the LTSA.
There are other things you should consider to minimize potential problems or to enhance your position if problems occur, such as:
- Properly maintain your computer system, keep software current (including vendor updates), and use current versions of the prescribed electronic forms;
- Have a system in place so that you receive notices or are otherwise kept apprised of changes in e-filing practice and requirements;
- Consider whether insurance coverage may be available to cover claims arising from technology problems and you can or should obtain additional insurance;
- Use an experienced registry agent for e-filing to manage risk and keep up-to-date with land title office practice and common e-filing issues. For those who might think I may be biased, you should know that I decided to use a registry agent in my law practice for e-filing long before I considered becoming a consultant to Dye & Durham; and
- If there is a relevant agreement obligating you to complete a transaction electronically, check the force majeure provision and if it applies to a technology problem that may arise as a result of your system or a third party system.
Next week – 20 hints and tips on digital signatures. I know what you’re thinking – how can there possibly be 20?