Quebec homebuyers and mortgage brokers looking to sign documents will now be required to draw up the originals in French, regardless of whether any of the signatories speak it.
The overhaul of Quebec’s language laws enshrined in Bill 96, passed by Quebec’s legislature earlier this year, could make signing a mortgage deed, refinancing documents, or a home sale contract more difficult for anyone who doesn’t speak French. Quebec’s mortgage brokers, however, might not be as inconvenienced as anglophone homeowners.
“I don’t know of any [brokers] that don’t speak at least a working level of French,” says Morgan Englebretsen, a bilingual Montreal-based mortgage broker with Mortgage Architects. While Bill 96’s new rules required him to reach out to lenders for new sets of French documents, he says it wasn’t a huge problem. “It’s not burned any deals or anything,” Englebretsen says.
Laws regulating language in businesses are nothing new in Quebec, a province where three out of every four residents speak French at home. The province’s Charter of the French Language, passed in 1977, enshrines the right of Quebecers to receive services in French. It doesn’t prevent anglophone businesses from working in English, so long as they serve customers in their native language.
Bill 96 takes this process a step further. According to KRB Lawyers, a Montreal business law firm, businesses—as of June—are required to respect a consumer’s right to be served in French. This means mortgage brokers and clients won’t be able to simply add a clause to a document saying they want to sign the contract in English.
“The parties may only agree to draw up such a contract in English, if such is their wish, after having read the French version,” the firm wrote in a post on its website.
If that doesn’t happen, KRB Lawyers’ post reads, anyone named in the contract can sue, claiming the lack of French inconvenienced them. Should they succeed, the contract can be declared null. However, there are exceptions, including contracts with people outside of Quebec.
For Anglophone clients wishing to have their contracts available in English, it will be their responsibility to get them translated. The price tag can run anywhere from $400 and $1,200, according to media reports, and legal notaries may charge additional fees to ensure the translation is accurate. But this process isn’t a big deal for lenders, from what Englebretsen understands.
“The bank simply re-sends the documents in French because they already have all these documents in French – because a large portion of their business is in French already,” he says.
Still, mortgage brokers that decide to offer services exclusively in English could run into some serious penalties.
According to a September post by three lawyers with the Toronto-based firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP., fines for breaking Bill 96’s rules range from $3,000 to $30,000 for legal persons (in other words, registered corporations) and can be doubled for a second offence. The lawyers said the Quebec government “may even suspend or revoke a permit or other authorization of the same nature if the business repeatedly violates the provisions of the Charter.”
Given that Quebec businesses are already used to serving a French-language majority, mortgage brokers might not have a hard time adjusting. That said, there will always be Quebec clients who are more comfortable in English—and Englebretsen says they’ll need more help.
“It’s going to be extra important to be available for them if they have any questions once they’re looking at the French document,” he says, “just to make sure that they know exactly what the terms and conditions of their loan agreement are.”