As foreign buyers pour billions of dollars into the U.S.’s luxury real estate market, the federal government is, for the first time, taking steps to learn the identities of buyers who pay cash for high-end real estate using shell companies.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, will require title insurance companies identify the people behind companies that pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate in New York’s Manhattan and Miami-Dade County in Florida.
The temporary reporting requirement is for all-cash purchases made from March 1, 2016, through August 27, 2016, that are worth more than $3 million in Manhattan, and $1 million in Miami-Dade.
The government agency is responding to concerns that all-cash purchasers may be hiding illicitly gained assets and their identities by buying residential properties through limited liability companies or other financial structures.
A spokesman for FinCEN was unable to provide comment on what particular nationalities had prompted the money laundering concerns.
FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery, said in a statement:
“We are seeking to understand the risk that corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals, may be using premium U.S. real estate to secretly invest millions in dirty money.
Over the years, our rules have evolved to make the standard mortgage market more transparent, and less hospitable to fraud and money laundering.
“But cash purchases present a more complex gap that we seek to address. These GTOs will produce valuable data that will assist law enforcement, and inform our broader efforts to combat money laundering in the real estate sector.”
The American Land Title Association (ALTA), a national trade association, is helping its members to comply with the federal reporting requirements. Michelle Korsmo, ALTA’s chief executive officer, said in a statement:
“ALTA looks forward to continuing our work with FinCEN as our members implement this Order to help prevent money laundering schemes, and the illegal purchase of real estate in the United States,” said Michelle Korsmo, ALTA’s chief executive officer. “ALTA is actively assisting our members to comply with these reporting requirements.
“As the independent third-party at the closing table, ALTA members work to safeguard the real estate transaction for millions of Americans every year. Our work with FinCEN underscores ALTA members’ commitment to providing a compliant real estate settlement experience.”
Heather Lowe, a lawyer with Global Financial Integrity who tracks the transfer of illicit money out of developing countries, told npr:
“You can spend a lot of money to buy a house, and then you can sell that house a year later, and all of a sudden, all of that money is completely clean money.”
New York City introduced its own disclosure rules for foreign shell companies in May last year. The rules were an attempt to rope in real estate owners who were avoiding paying taxes. It required the names of all the members of a shell company to be released to the city.