What Are The Different Types Of Documents To Inspect?
* Certificate Of Occupancy/Governor’s Consent/Land Certificate, etc.: These are documents exclusively issued by the government in respect of landed properties. In terms of importance, the C of O/Governor’s Consent is regarded as the most valuable or officially recognized document of title. That is why it is the only acceptable proof of title in many financial institutions and government departments.
The legal implication of a C of O is also that it is a prima facie proof of your title. Aside from this, when investigating a C of O, please take note of the covenants and restrictions in it. A C of O will usually indicate what the property is to be used for, i.e., whether the use must be for agricultural, residential, commercial purposes, etc. If you believe you can build anywhere because you have a C of O, then the government which issued the C of O has a right to revoke same.
The same will apply if you have not been paying your ground rent. One of the terms and conditions of every C of O is that you are under a legal obligation to pay ground rent top the government every year. If you fail/neglect to pay the ground rents as at when due, the government may revoke your C of O because of you have breached one of the terms and conditions.
* Registered Deed Of Assignment/Conveyance: A property owner may have a Deed of Assignment or Deed of Conveyance executed in his favor by the previous owner. The Deed may be registered at the State’s Land Registry. In importance, a registered deed has better value than an unregistered one. It is acceptable in lieu of C of O in many financial institutions. And the legal implication is that, registration of title document is regarded as a notice to the whole world that the property now belongs to you.
* Gazette: This is an official document from the government, State or Federal. This document is like a notice to the whole world, backed by law, to inform that government has acquired or released a particular piece or parcel of land. This document is important particularly in the case of family land. Where the government has acquired a family land in the past, and then released this land, an official gazette will be published to that effect. The location of the land, the size and the owners to whom it was released will be stated in the gazette. It is, therefore, common to find many people relying on gazette as their only proof of title. If you find yourself in such a situation, the gazette may be a valid proof of title, so long as you are sure of the family claiming ownership of it, and that the land indeed falls within the gazette.
* Unregistered Deed Of Assignment/Conveyance: A Deed of Assignment or Conveyance may also be unregistered. Non-registration does not make it invalid. It is acceptable as a clear evidence that there was a transaction between an owner and a buyer. It is more or less a written contract for the sale of property. All you need do is to ensure that the parties to the transaction all sign the deed.
* Purchase Receipt: This is perhaps the most important document in property transactions. This is the evidence of payment of consideration (money) for the property. It is the foundation of any property transaction (except a gift). This is because you cannot even obtain a C of O without a purchase receipt. It is the receipt given by the seller of landed property to the buyer that will be regarded as evidence of transaction between the parties. Where the land is owned by the family, the purchase receipt must bear the name of that family and be signed by the accredited persons, usually the family head and secretary.
Please note that though important, the purchase receipt alone may not be sufficient proof of ownership. This is because two or more people may also have purchase receipts issued them by the same seller.
Other documents which may support evidence of ownership: Please note my choice of words here. What I mean is that the following documents provide evidence which may support proof of ownership. The documents in themselves are not valid documents of title. But if you possess them, it presupposes that you are the owner of the property, because only a property owner can possess such documents. But these documents cannot stand on their own as documents of title. They must accompany or be accompanied by other documents. The documents under this category include the following:
* Survey Plan – A survey plan is only a complimentary document of title and not a conclusive proof. It is not a legally valid proof of ownership on its own because it is merely a document describing the size, dimension and location of the land. The survey plan must accompany other documents like the purchase receipts, deed of assignment/conveyance, etc to be validly accepted as proof of title.
* Building Plan – The purpose of the building plan is to describe the type of building that will be constructed on the land, its dimensions and sizes. It is also a complimentary proof of ownership and cannot stand on its own. It must accompany other documents like the purchase receipt, deed, etc, to be validly accepted as evidence of ownership of property. Moreover, merely changing the name on a building or survey plan without more is not one of the recognized modes of transfer of title in property.
* Tenement Rates/Land Use Charge Receipts – Tenement rates receipts also play the role of complimenting proof of ownership. The mere fact that the local or State government authority issues tenement rate or land use charge receipts in someone’s name is a pointer to the fact that that person may be the owner. Alone, the tenement rate receipt is not a conclusive document of title, but may be used as evidence.
*Letters of Allocation – In identifying documents of title, I shall advise you to be wary when it comes to ordinary Letter of Allocation, Letter of Offer, etc, without more. A letter of allocation is merely an offer, which the holder must accept and meet the conditions specified therein before he can become recognized as the owner. Anybody can be given a letter of allocation of a property if he applies. But the allottee must have fully paid the specified fees/levies before the property legally becomes his. In most cases, when government allots a piece of land to Mr. A, he is told the amount of money he is to pay to the government as levies, and the time limit within which the levies must be paid. Where he fails to meet the deadline, the government may have allotted the land to another person while Mr. A is still going about parading his letter of allocation. So, do not rely only on a letter of allocation as evidence of title. Demand to see the receipts of payment of the requisite fees.
* Court Judgment – There are instances when a property becomes the subject of litigation between two parties, at the end of which one of them wins. At that point in time, the winner of the court case may be recognized as the owner of the property. If the owner has no other document, then the judgment is sufficient evidence to support ownership. He may even go ahead to register the judgment with the appropriate land registry. But you as the buyer must be cautious where you intend to buy a property and the only document backing it is a court judgment. As a matter of necessity, you must involve your lawyer in such a transaction. Your lawyer will confirm the authenticity of such judgment, and ascertain if there is any pending appeal on the case. If there is any pending appeal, your lawyer will almost certainly advise you not to proceed with the transaction until the final judgment, which of course may swing either way.