Blog Post

Can London learn from Canada’s ban on foreign property ownership?

Oriane Nermond examines Canada’s recent ban on foreigners buying housing and the evidence on how foreign ownership affects house prices and vacancy rates.

In January 2023, Canada imposed a two-year ban on foreigners buying property in the country to help resolve the housing crisis. This was one of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s key campaign commitments, with the slogan ‘homes are for people not investors’.

Could it work in London?

Does a ban on foreign ownership help address the housing crisis?

London and Canada’s large cities like Toronto and Vancouver all face their own housing crisis. There are lots of causes, but fundamentally a mismatch between supply and demand is forcing up prices.

Building more housing is one solution to this problem. But this takes time – never mind planning constraints.

So the idea of stopping non-residents from buying properties that they’d leave vacant or underused is appealing as a quick way to get some more houses on the market for people looking for a home.

Will it make a difference? Let’s take Toronto as an example. In 2020, almost 3% of properties were owned by non-residents according to Statistics Canada. This may not seem like much, but that’s more than 45,000 properties. Some real estate experts think it’s enough to have an impact on housing prices.

Just 15% of those non-residents’ properties would be enough to house the 7,343 people who experienced homelessness in Greater Toronto in 2021 according to Homeless Hub.

But there’s no clear evidence that foreign properties are increasing prices in Toronto. Opponents of Trudeau’s policy argue that in fact, foreign investment has allowed more houses to be built by bringing more money into the system.

The lack of available data on the number of vacant or underused non-resident-owned properties makes it difficult for policymakers to fully understand the extent of the problem.

More research is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions about the relationships between house prices, vacancy rates, and foreign ownership.

Understanding foreign property ownership in London

In 2022, Sadiq Khan said: “the truth is that property in London plays a central role in harbouring illicit funds from around the world, which also results in many properties being left empty and unused at a time when many Londoners are struggling to afford a home to buy or rent”.

It’s true that London has the highest number of properties registered with an overseas address of any region of England. But the level of foreign ownership varies considerably between boroughs.

Properties registered with an overseas address are concentrated in inner London and Hounslow, where 5% of properties are foreign owned. Westminster has the highest proportion of foreign ownership at 9%. Merton has the lowest – just 0.3%.

Source: Data requested via Freedom of Information (FOI) to the HM Land and Registry by Centre for Public Data in 2021.

But while we have data about the percentage of properties with foreign ownership, we don’t have regular or publicly available data about how they’re used. This makes it hard to know for sure how they’re contributing to the housing crisis.

Here’s some of the data and research that is available:

  • In 2016, the GLA found 70-85% of overseas property purchases were for investment or rental purposes.
  • Research by the University of York shows that foreign owners are more likely to leave homes empty or underused than domestic owners.
  • UK government data found that 87,731 properties were left vacant in London in 2021.

The last figure is especially concerning. Around 60% of these vacant properties would be enough to meet the Mayor’s annual house building of 52,000. How many of those vacant properties are registered to an overseas address? We simply don’t know.


Reducing foreign ownership isn’t an easy answer to London’s housing crisis.

But more research into the relationship between housing supply, foreign ownership, and vacancy rates would help us understand what difference it could make. Watching the impact on the Canadian market will be an important part of this.

In the meantime, London’s leaders need to investigate every angle possible to address the urgent housing crisis – from using existing stock better to building more homes.

Find out more about our research on housing.