In an unusual Ontario decision, the court was faced with a case in which a homeowner had purported to transfer a half-interest of his Toronto Islands home to an adult adoptee.
90-Year-Old Adopts 58-Year-Old
In 2017, the owner of a home in the Toronto Islands legally adopted an adult man.
At the time, the owner was 90 years old and the adoptee was 58 years old.
The homeowner had known the adoptee for approximately 37 years and had acted as a father figure to him during that time.
In 2018, following the adoption, the homeowner transferred a half-interest in his home to the adoptee.
Toronto Islands Home Transfer Rules
Toronto Islands homeowners are subject to the rules set out in the Toronto Islands Residential Community Stewardship Act (the “Islands Act”).
The Toronto Islands, situated in Lake Ontario, include a residential community of 262 homes.
The Islands Act sets out a regime under which transfers of homes on the island are subject to strict regulation which is administered by the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust Corporation (the “Trust”).
The Islands Act provides that homes on the island can only be transferred through the Trust to the person first in line on a waiting list maintained by the Trust. Additionally, home prices are fixed by regulation.
However, there are three exceptions to this regime: under certain conditions, an owner can transfer a home to a spouse, a joint tenant, or a child. “Child” is defined in the Islands Act as including an “adopted child”.
Trust Challenges Transfer of Land to Adoptee
Initially, the Trust brought up certain deficiencies in the transfer transactions to the attention of the homeowner and the adoptee. It claimed that the transfers were invalid.
In response, the purported transfers were unwound.
However, even after the transfers were unwound, the Trust brought an application for declaratory relief to the court.
The Trust was concerned about rumours among Island residents that adult adoptions were one way of avoiding at least some of the restrictions on transfers of Island homes.
As such, among other relief, the Trust sought:
- A declaration that the adult adoption of the adoptee by the homeowner bestowed no legal right to the adoptee to obtain title to the home;
- Fines of $5,000 against the homeowner and the adoptee for their improper transfers of interest in the home.
The Trust asked the court to take a purposive approach to the interpretation of the Islands Act in order to prohibit the proposed transfer and to prohibit general transfers between a homeowner and an adopted adult child. The Trust submitted that allowing transfers of homes to adult adoptees would subvert the transfer restrictions under the legislation and would violate the interests of the 500 members of the purchaser’s list.
Court Considers Context of Adoption
The court began its analysis by reviewing the relationship between the homeowner and the adoptee. It also surveyed the law surrounding adoption as set out in the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.
Ultimately, considering the circumstances, the court held that the adoption appeared to be genuine, stating:
“The [homeowner] has acted as a father figure to the [adoptee] for approximately 37 years. This is not a case of two adults with little or no prior relationship engineering an adoption to defeat the purpose of transfer restrictions on Island homes. This is an example of a genuine family relationship that stretches back decades and that is amply supported by contemporaneous documentation over the course of 37 years. In those circumstances, there is no reason to place any limitation on the definition of a child as including an adopted child under the Islands Act.”
The court, therefore, refused to order the relief sought by the Trust, stating:
“Given the depth of evidence of a long-standing familial relationship between [the homeowner] and [the adoptee], I am inclined to apply the words of the Islands Act, literally and find that [the adoptee] is a child of [the homeowner] for purposes of that Act. It is highly unlikely that two other adults would engage in a 37-year relationship involving their immediate and extended family to engineer a transfer of an Island home to circumvent the restrictions contained in the Act.”
Additionally, the court refused to impose a fine on either the homeowner or the adoptee, finding that the circumstances were not appropriate for such an order.
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