416-364-9366 bob@aaron.ca

Found money in a house? That doesn’t necessarily entitle you to it

Jan 23, 2023 | 2023 Toronto Star Property Law Columns

By Bob Aaron
Toronto Star contributing columnist

Instance of money being found in Bracebridge, Ont., focuses issue of unclaimed property in Ontario. It’s not always finders keepers, says Bob Aaron.

When I heard that the Ontario Provincial Police in Bracebridge were looking for the owner of “a significant amount of money” left at a bank there several months ago, I began to wonder who could claim the windfall if the true owner never did.

Finding money in a public place, such as a bank, is different from finding money in a home that may have been hidden by a previous owner. What is the obligation of a member of the public on finding a bag full of cash?

Back in 2017, the buyers of a house in Edmonton discovered a concealed tin containing $500,000 in cash and gold wafers. The buyers and sellers sued each other; the court awarded the windfall to the estate of the prior owner.

In June of 1997, a Stratford woman sold the home where she and her late husband had lived for 38 years. The new buyers had the house demolished and the contractor doing the demolition found silver coins and $130,000 worth of old $50- and $100-bills.

Neither the seller, nor the buyers, knew about the hidden money when they signed the Agreement of Purchase and Sale. But soon after, the parties went to court to claim the money and a judge awarded the woman who sold the house all of the loot.

In the fall of 2005, a couple bought a house in Trois-Rivières, Que., that had been repossessed by the bank from its former owner, an alleged Hells Angels gang member.

When the new owners began renovations, a plastic bag containing $100,000 in $20-bills fell out of a panel in the bathroom ceiling. The owners turned it over to the police. A court later ruled it was the proceeds of crime and belonged to the government.

In the current episode of money being found, in Bracebridge, the OPP issued a news release saying it’s a “significant amount” and that, despite an investigation, the owner has not yet been found.

After reading the OPP release, I wondered how much is “a significant amount.” Are we talking about current bank notes or old King George money?

Why was the money left in a bank of all places? Was it the proceeds of an old bank robbery? Why not give it to a hospital, or another worthy charity?

And the biggest questions of all: What should you do if you find a bag full of cash? How many citizens would have just kept the money instead of turning it in to the police?

In Ontario, there is no law dealing with abandoned property. The Unclaimed Intangible Property Act was passed in 1989, but never proclaimed into law. It was formally repealed on Dec. 31, 2011.

The definition of intangible property in the law included money. The Act established a procedure under which property would be deemed to be unclaimed, based on prescribed criteria. Ultimately, it would be forwarded to the public trustee by the holder of the property after a prescribed time period. The public trustee would then publish a notice annually in The Ontario Gazette. Until the property was claimed, the act allowed for unclaimed intangible property to be used “for the benefit of the people of Ontario.”

As the Unclaimed Intangible Property Act was never in force, unclaimed property in Ontario has an uncertain fate.

So, should the police return the money to the finder or the Ontario government? Or should they let the courts decide?

On private property — as on public property — it’s not always finders keepers.


Contact Bob Aaron

Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer and frequent speaker to groups of home buyers and real estate agents.
He can be reached by email at bob@aaron.ca, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818.

Aaron & Aaron specialize in Real Estate Law, specifically Sale of Rental, Condominium, Residential, Rural Recreation, Offer to Lease, Commercial, and New Construction

Latest Videos