0

Land Registry In 20 Years To 'Get Straight'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Realtors yesterday hailed the Government's Land Registry plan as taking the Bahamas to "first world status", but warned: "It will take 20 years to get straight."

Leading industry players, while giving their backing to the Minnis administration's just-announced plans, told Tribune Business there were "so many pieces and loose ends to sort out" before its ambitions for a system of registered land can be realised.

They acknowledged, though, that the Bahamas "has to start somewhere" on land reform, given its importance to economic development and social well-being as a sector that effectively acts as the economy's 'third pillar'.

Mike Lightbourn, Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty's president, said the goal unveiled by Elsworth Johnson, minister of state for legal affairs, "means you can go to a certain location and see who owns a piece of land".

Applauding the Government's intentions, he nevertheless warned that it would take at least two decades to build a Land Registry where - as stated by Mr Johnson - "every piece, parcel, lot or tract of land will be easily identifiable" by a folio number, with all claims, charges and liens against them recorded.

"It's still going to be a damn mess because there are so many pieces and loose ends to sort out. It will take 20 years to get straight," Mr Lightbourn told Tribune Business.

"It's all needed; nobody can doubt that. Everybody's talked about it [a Land Registry] for years. It will take 290 years, but we've got to start somewhere. Everyone of us would love to go into a central location and find out who owns a particular piece of property, and if there are any liens on it. In the US you can do that."

Mario Carey, principal of Better Homes and Gardens MCR Bahamas, echoed Mr Lightbourn's concerns that the Bahamas' current system is well below the "first world" levels employed in most countries.

"I would say that it would give us first world status in an area that is vital to our economy, and I think it should be made a top priority for the Government," he told Tribune Business of the Land Registry plan.

"Almost everyone in the world, especially the US and Canada, and any English-speaking first world country, that's how they have things. In the US, once you have a folio number you can pull up everything on a property, get title insurance and close in two days. For first world countries, that's the way they operate."

The Government's Land Registry plan ties directly to its ambitions of improving the Bahamas' 'ease of doing business'. The World Bank's annual report currently ranks the Bahamas 167th out of 190 countries when it comes to registering property, largely because of the time taken to complete transactions (122 days or three-four months) due to the need to undertake title searches and record conveyances at the Registry of Records.

A complete, accurate Land Registry database that was accessible to all could thus significantly reduce the time and cost associated with both commercial and residential real estate deals, given that title and liens/charges information could be seen by all - not just attorneys.

This, in turn, would boost the Bahamas' economic competitiveness and attraction for both foreign and local investors, since typical problems currently encountered in establishing good title would be eliminated or reduced.

Mr Carey yesterday urged the Government to focus on its Land Registry/registered land plans simply because "so many lives" and jobs will be impacted by reforms that deliver improvements.

"Anything that focuses on real estate to make it easier, more transparent and better for this country is great because it impacts jobs," he told Tribune Business. "It's such a domino effect. If you have effective, transparent land reform and policies that stimulate the real estate sector, and procedures that attract investors and developers, there are so many lives impacted by that. There's no end to it.

"I'm so pro-real estate because it stimulates the economy, stimulates growth and improves people's net worth. We need to start ticking the boxes that help us get to first world status, and this could be one of them."

Mr Carey said a Bahamian Land Registry should contain information such as valuations, title searches and outstanding real property taxes for all properties, and added: "It won't be written by hand. Why can't we do that? Why is it so difficult?"

The Government is preparing a so-called 'White Paper' to outline its proposals, which include dusting-off the three-strong legislative package that was shelved by the last Ingraham administration and never revived by its immediate successor.

These are the the Land Adjudication Bill, the Registered Land Bill and the Law of Property Bill, all of which date from 2010. These were all designed to give commercial and residential real estate buyers greater certainty they had good title to their properties, ending the economic and social disruption frequently caused by problems in this area.

Creating a Bahamas Land Registry, which is what the Registered Land Bill seeks to do, would move the Bahamian real estate and conveyancing market away from one based on "first to record" the title deeds.

A Land Registry would contain all information relating to a specific parcel of land in one database, including its location, dimensions, ownership interests and all encumbrances, such as mortgages and other liens/charges. This, in turn, would boost efficiency and reduce issues associated with title problems.

The Land Adjudication Bill was an attempt to reform and do away with the concept of generation land, aiming to grant title over one acre to persons who can show they have been in uninterrupted possession of that real estate parcel for 12 years or more.

Persons in that situation will receive a Certificate of Title to that one acre, or possibly 1.5 acres in certain circumstances. Generation and commonage land are frequently found in the Family Islands, and it could help development in those areas.

Mr Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday that the Government is eyeing comprehensive reform, with plans to address whether or not the Quieting Titles Act should be repealed given suspicions that it is being used to effectively 'steal land'.

This was the case in the long-running saga affecting hundreds of homeowners in the Nassau Village/Sir Lynden Pindling Estates area, which stems from a Quieting Titles fraud that induced the Supreme Court to grant a certificate of title that was later ruled invalid and set aside.

Tribune Business has also reported extensively on cases such as the 'estate of the late Effie Knowles', which triggered an orgy of speculation in islands such as Long Island, Rum Cay and now Andros, with unsuspecting foreign purchasers being sold lots with dubious title.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that problems associated with obtaining clean title to land frequently inhibited social and economic development, preventing people from using real estate as a wealth creator and asset against with which to secure loans.

Christine Wallace-Whitfield, the Bahamas Real Estate Association's (BREA) president, yesterday told Tribune Business that a Land Registry and registered land system was something that has "always been discussed" among realtors.

"I think it's a great idea," she said of the Government's proposals. "It's something that needs to happen; we definitely support it. It's something that's been needed, and needed to happen, for a little while. We support the Government in hopefully bringing it to fruition.

"Title searches have been something that takes too long, and are always a hassle, so to see the Government taking a look at it, making it better and an easier process for persons to make sure their title is free and clear is a positive step."

Comments

DWW 8 months ago

this is so badly needed but no one has the stamina to actually do it. shame really. It won't happen as long as the gov't is comprised of attorneys who get fat off real estate transaction.

0

bogart 8 months ago

NOT 20 YEARS BUT A FEW 2 TO 3 YEARS AS JUST ABOUT EVERY PROPERTY HAS ALREADY PASSED THROUGH THE HANDS OF EVERY BANK AND KNOWN TO TITLE SEARCH COMPANIES, SURVEYORS AND REGISTRY THAT NREDS TO BE CLEANED UP,!!

It is just that the lawyers, relatives, friends who represent the law firms who are on the "APPROVED LAWYERS LIST" to photocopy STANDARD MORTGAGE AND OTHER PAPERWORK and do research and then because of the state of the REGISTRY will .....will be prevented from earning their 2.5% legal fees and other fees charged to thousands of potential bank mortgage clients redoing, resorting, reborrowing, doing further transactions AS banks normally return to same lawyers. There is no piece of land in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas that does not have an owner.......except for those that illegal Squatters are on ......or has some garbage, direlect vehicles piled up on .......or have a govt notice on a tree to clean up?....if it does not then add it to Crown lands until ownership can be proven! And charge a fee lien for cleaning up !!

Foreign banks have lent out BILLIONS OF DOLLARS for mortgages, businesses etc ....and holding thousanda of pieces of Bahamian land which usually carries AN OPINION ON TITLE so that the banks can lend money....and to say that it will take 20 years for a LAND REGISTRY is simply not good enough!!

0

Dawes 8 months ago

And you need to add, when you pay that lawyer the fees, they suggest you get title insurance as well, as they basically admit they have no clue what they are doing. Why don't i just get title insurance then and save my lawyer fees.

0

TheMadHatter 8 months ago

In 20 years it will be really really easy to say who owns ANY piece of land in the Bahamas - all will be listed under "Alphonse Pierre".

0

sheeprunner12 8 months ago

BOL ........ The Haitians just squat and shit all over the land on every island that they go to .......... and no one says a word to them

0

sheeprunner12 8 months ago

These realtors are just as guilty as the dirty lawyers and foreigners ......... they all are in cahoots with the land rip-off schemes of gullible and ignorant Bahamians who are only interested in a "bowl of soup" for their precious land .......... Check every Out Island and most of the prime land is already in the hand of a foreigner or Bahamian land speculators like Lightbourn and Carey dem. ......... so, they can sit back and say it will take 20+ years, because they know what mess that their ilk have created with land titles.

Hope they do not ask Hubert Ingraham his opinion ......... he opened up our country to the land sharks.

0

TalRussell 8 months ago

Ma Comrade Realtors, by choosing do business likes a Oban - isn't PM, if only by 650 acres crown lands does means the 91,409 who voted red shirts 10th May 2017 - are blindly embracing the right PM and his Imperial cabinet to give away 650 acres Queen's lands -all under a FAKE signature. {No need make up this kinds blatant FAKE, right in da face 91,409 voters }. Now 91,409 trusting voters have a big red party choice to make - does the mans, along KP, stay or go? I can only encourage "Brave" and his three House MP's, not to ignore getting their opposition message across to the 91, 409 - cause since there is no general election scheduled 2017 - tis only the 91,409 that can decide the today's destiny of the PM and KP...... so, Queen's leader Brave, hammer away relentlessly at 91,409 reds to plead opposition's case.

0

TalRussell 8 months ago

No general election scheduled 2022.

0

sheeprunner12 8 months ago

Tal ........ don't know your real name, education level or career choice ....... but you really write some hilarious comments on this blog ...... There will be an election by 2022 ........ You can bet on that 100%.

0

sheeprunner12 8 months ago

A lot of privately owned family land that may have been legally transacted 80 to 100 years ago, just lies dormant in many Out Islands as the descendants have not opted to survey the land and divide it up........ these family-owned properties have even been speculated upon and sold or quieted by crooked realtors and their lawyer cronies ......... When families realize that the crime has been committed, it is usually too late as the crooks have already secured "legal title" ........ This criminality must be stopped.

0

OldFort2012 8 months ago

I never laughed so much! "means you can go to a certain location and see who owns a piece of land". Yes, you need to call up Bahamasair and get a return ticket to Internetland.

What a bunch of ignorant people. You can do all this and blockchain it in 6 months. As data is added by the Courts, you add it to the database. It's soooo simple.

20 years? People have built rockets and gone to the Moon in less time from scratch.

0

bogart 8 months ago

The information is already in the various computitle systems ....business firms who have data banks.....and at the Real Property Tax assessmrnt office...how else do they know who and whose PO Box to send the notice to and ownrrs correct yhem cause everyone gets pissed off with an unnecessary bill.....plus Lands and Surveys knows.....plus if you put a dozen people at the Registry you can sort out book and vol ..page numbers......for decades it has been known of land disputes....but then again why hurry to fix it when additional money and fees can be made fo all parties banks, buyers, sellers, dower claime, quietings, wills, fraud, adverse ,insurance etcetc.....dats plenty of business that lawyers gan miss out on .....

0

DaGoobs 8 months ago

The government can go to Jamaica where this type of thing was done about 40 years ago and get advice from them. No way that this has to take 20 years. And the lawyers get their fees for mortgages and conveysnces whether you have a registered title system or not.

0

Sign in to comment