May 16, 2016

Investigation, registration & perfection of Title to Land in Nigeria by Mary Akin-Ajayi

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What you must know prior to, during and after purchase:
For many, buying a piece of land or real property is all about finding a vendor willing to sell and meeting the price for the property. Many people fall into the mistake of dealing with vendors of properties in trust, assuming that the fact that they have known one another for donkey years or the fact that an agent has assured them of good title is sufficient to avoid future troubles with respect to the land or real property.

It is of paramount importance to take certain steps prior to the purchase of land, during the course of purchase and even after the purchase has been made for the sake of securing ones interest in the said property. A willing purchase as a matter of importance must investigate the title of the vendor to the said land and in some cases the track record of such vendor in order to forestall any future legal issues. 

At this stage parties (vendor (or agent) and purchaser) meet and discuss on the property: price, mode of payment, nature of vendor’s title etc. After parties have agreed on the purchase price a Contract of Sale Agreement is drawn up pending when the Purchaser would carry out investigation to deduce the nature of the Vendor’s title to ascertain that the property truly belongs to the Vendor and is free of any encumbrance.

At the point where the contract is exchanged the vendor is deemed to hold the land in trust for the purchaser till he pays, and all conditions therein fulfilled. The essence is to deduce a good root of title from the vendor. Until the execution of the contract of sale there is no obligation on the vendor to establish that he is the owner of the title which he intends to convey, but once the contract has been exchanged, he is under duty to do so. The Contract of Sale Agreement may include terms as agreed by parties. It is not unusual for parties to agree to a deposit on the total value of the property at this point pending the result of the investigation of title by the purchaser.


After the execution of the contract, the purchaser would collect title documents from the vendor. These documents should be sufficient in themselves without any extrinsic evidence to establish the title to the land. Such documents include Certificate of Occupancy, Deed of Assignment/Conveyance and Survey Plan, Registered Title, Court Vesting Order etc.
Once the relevant documents (usually copies) have been obtained from the vendor, the Purchaser’s solicitors proceed to carry out an investigation to confirm the vendor’s title and to ascertain that there are no defects in the said title to the property. Investigation involves several searches at various registries where records of properties and encumbrances are kept. Searches can be conducted in the following ways –

• Search at the Lands Registry – The Land Instrument Registration Law of each State establishes a land registry for the State, where documents relating to land within the territory are kept, and it varies from one State to another.

• Search at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) – This is necessary where the vendor or past owner is a company incorporated under Companies and Allied Matters Act. Apart from the searches at the land registry, there should be a further search at the CAC to reveal whether or not there is an encumbrance or any charge whatsoever on the property. 

Companies are required to file annual returns yearly with the CAC which is always accompanied with a company’s financial statement; the financial statement will reveal the company’s assets (where there are any) as well as any charges or encumbrance on same.

• Search at Probate registry – This is a search conducted to reveal whether or not probate has been granted on any estate and to ascertain the personal representatives or executors of a testator in cases of properties belonging to the estate of a deceased. Without a grant of Probate and/or letters of administration, the vendors do not possess the requisite authority to sell the property of a deceased person.

• Traditional evidence – This is done by investigating or verifying from the principal members of a family or from the community and heads of the community where the property is subject to family or community ownership. It is crucial to verify that all relevant consents have been obtained and that the title is neither void nor voidable.

• Court judgments – This is a search conducted to see if the land is subject to any court litigation, and if any, the outcome of the dispute; or whether the vendor is a personal representative or beneficiary in a probate dispute which entitles him to convey the property.

• Physical inspection – This is a personal visit to the property in question in order to find out if there is any issue with the property, or to ascertain the actual size of the land and whether it conforms to the dimensions on the survey plan at the Lands registry.

In addition to the above, investigation of real property could take a different turn depending on the type of property and the caliber of persons involved in the transaction. For instance, due to the recent development of collapsed and collapsing buildings in Lagos State, it is advisable for clients who are looking to purchase high rise buildings to request for Profiles of the developers of the property, certificate of structural integrity/stability, kind of foundation on which the building is erected etc. (Better safe than sorry).

For properties located in choice areas which cost large sums of money, it may not be out of place to investigate the profile and record of the vendors to ascertain such persons are not on the watch list of agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the ICPC or the Federal Government. This would prevent the risk of confiscation of the property by the Federal Government or any anti-corruption agency. (Yes it is that serious!). 

After the purchaser through his solicitor has ascertained that the vendor has a good title to the land, the next stage is the preparation of a Deed of Assignment/Conveyance and execution of same by the parties with respect to the property to be sold.

The Deed of assignment can be prepared by the purchaser’s solicitor and vetted by the vendor or his solicitor after which several copies would be produced (usually called engrossed copies) then the documents would be executed by parties and their witnesses. At this stage any outstanding sum or balance would be paid by the Purchaser.

After this, the Vendor shall submit all original title documents to the purchaser and in the case of an already developed property shall hand over the keys to the purchaser. In the event that there are tenants in the property this would be the appropriate time to introduce the new owner of the property to the tenants usually via a notice.

It is important to note that the Deed of Assignment is to be accompanied with the survey plan of the property in question as these are part of the documents required for perfection of title which is the next stage.
It is compulsory that every deed of assignment contain a consent section for the governor of the relevant state where the land/property sold is situated.

After the purchase
Many people who are oblivious to legal requirements usually think that after executing deeds of assignment or conveyance as the case may be that they have done all that is required of them and continue to enjoy their newly acquired property. However, there is still a lot more to be done to “perfect” the title to the newly acquired land. These include application for Governor’s consent, payment of stamp duties and registration of conveyance or assignment at the Lands Registry. This is done in order to ensure compliance with relevant statutes and protect the legal validity of the purchaser’s title to the property.

Application for Governors Consent: 
The Land Use Act prohibits alienation of statutory right of occupancy without the consent of the Governor . It makes it mandatory for the holder of a statutory right of occupancy to seek and obtain the consent of the Governor of the State where the land is situated before alienation or sale of interest in land, otherwise the transaction shall be void.
Where the property however is subject to a customary right of occupancy, the consent required is that of the local government where the land is situated .

The purchaser should always endeavour to make sure the vendor signs the application letter for consent, this is because it is the duty of a holder of the right of occupancy to seek consent of the Governor to alienate.
The following documents are required for processing an application for governor’s consent (this is as it applies specifically to lands in Lagos State; other jurisdictions have slight differences, otherwise the procedure is largely similar):

• Dated letter of application with address and telephone numbers
• Completed form 1c
• Certified true copy of grantor’s title document
• Vendor/Grantor’s tax clearance certificate and development levy receipt
• Purchaser/Grantee’s tax clearance certificate and development levy receipt
• Four executed Deed of Assignment
• Four Chartable survey plans
• Evidence of payment for charting, endorsement and form 1c
• In case of an undeveloped land, an Affidavit in lieu of Tenement rate.
• Building plan and photograph of property.

The application letter and documents listed above are to be submitted at the Land registry of the state in question, same would be received and referenced. The status of the land is then investigated through charting at the Surveyor General’s Office. The property would subsequently be assessed to determine the fees to be paid at the designated bank which includes assessment fee, registration fee, consent fee, charting fee, stamp duty, capital gains tax etc.
After the above, a demand Notice will then be issued to the purchaser who is required to proceed to make payment and forward treasury receipts of payment of fees to the registry. The documents shall then be approved and stamped accordingly.
Failure to pay stamp duty renders the document unacceptable for registration and inadmissible in evidence in a court of law .Penalty would also apply where relevant documents are stamped outside thirty days.

Registration of Title is done in order to avoid fraud and problems arising from the suppression or omission of instruments when title is deduced, in case of subsequent transactions it would show a registered interest in the said property. 

While registration does not cure any defects to title to property, it is important to register such documents as they are documents affecting land in which one party confers, transfers, limits, charges or extinguishes in favour of another party a right or title to or interest in land. Registration gives an indication that a property is encumbered and any subsequent purchaser would be duly informed upon carrying out a search at the registry.

Documents transferring title to land are registerable instruments and failure to so register them would render them inadmissible in court.

After the Governor’s consent has been obtained and the Deed of Assignment duly registered, one can then proceed to obtain Certificate of Occupancy. The procedure for Obtaining Certificate of Occupancy is as follow (using Lagos State as a case study):

1. Submission of Application Letter addressed to the Executive Secretary – Land Use and Allocation Committee (LUAC), at the Lands Registry with the following documents attached:
Ø Vital Information Form for Certificate of Occupancy with receipt

Ø Completed Certificate of Occupancy Form with receipt.

Ø Land Information Certificate with receipt.

Ø Four original Survey Plan (2 cloth copy and 2 paper copy).

Ø Four Passport Photographs with white background.

Ø Sketch Map of the Site Location

Ø Purchase Receipt Duly Stamped.

Ø Evidence of payment of Income Tax

Ø Current Development Levy

Ø Publication Fee 

Ø Capital Contribution Fee

2.  Compilation of Applicants names for publication, Title Search for previous Registration and Site Inspection. 

3. Certificate of Occupancy Engrossment (by Land Use Allocation Committee {LUAC}).

4. Recommendation for execution of C of O (by E.S. LUAC, SSA LANDS & P.S. Lands).

5. Execution of Certificate of Occupancy (by His Excellency).

6. Stamp Duty (by Commissioner for Stamp Duties).

7. Registration of Certificate of Occupancy (by Lands Registry).

8. Collection of executed and registered Certificate of Occupancy.
Once all these are done and dusted, one can then rest easy and be assured of a solid title to any property acquired or land purchased. The above processes could take a long time and one is required to be patient as there are no short cuts to perfection of title to land and real property in general.

This write-up is written by Mary Akin-Ajayi, an associate with the Firm of Argyle & Clover Attorneys at Law.

Ed's Note: This article was originally published by Argyle & Clover Attorneys at Law here