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Obtaining title and rights to property
“Title” as it relates to land, refers to the legal right or interest in a piece of property. This interest can be either freehold (an interest in the property with no stated end) or leasehold (an interest with a stated end known as a “term of years”). These interests give an owner the right to hold, occupy and use the land to his or her benefit. Proof of ownership of property takes the form of land title documents that should be registered with the Land Registry, Registrar General’s Department of the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
There are a number of ways one can acquire freehold or leasehold interest in land.
Contract for Sale of Land
The most usual way to own land is by purchase. The purchase is effected by way of a contract of sale between a vendor (the person selling and who owns the land) and purchaser (the person buying the land). Title is then transferred by the sale from the vendor to the purchaser. Sale of land is essentially a three stage process, the final stage being where the land is conveyed or transferred in the appropriate form (eg. Deed or Memorandum of Transfer).
Another way of obtaining rights to property is by a mortgage arrangement. Land is an asset and the value of it can stand as sufficient security for borrowing money from a bank. Such an arrangement is called a mortgage. It involves a legal arrangement between the mortgagor (the person who agrees to have his property mortgaged) and the mortgagee (the person who agrees to lend the money for which the property stands as collateral).
For a mortgage to come into effect the mortgagor must have a legal title to the property. The mortgagor will either convey (if it is freehold land) or assigns (if it is leasehold land) his title or rights in the property to the mortgagee. The mortgagee then obtains rights and title to the property subject to the mortgagor’s right to redeem at the end of the arrangement.
A common way to pass on title to land is by leaving it in a will. If a person dies intestate, that is, without a will, the law also provides for how any property of the deceased is to be distributed and who is entitled to it. Once the will is probated or the estate is administered according to law, beneficiaries then acquire their title to the land by a Deed of Assent.
This is a legal rule that allows a stranger/squatter to acquire title to land if they can prove ‘exclusive’ possession of another’s land, without permission, for at least 16 years in the case of private lands and 30 years on State lands.
The Foreign Investment Act Chapter 70:07 states that foreigners must obtain a license to acquire land for any purpose. Once the license is granted land title can be acquired by a contract for sale of land. This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem you should consult a legal adviser. Co-ordinator: Roshan Ramcharitar.
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