HOW TO INVESTIGATE PROPERTY TITLE IN LAGOS NIGERIA
Investigation of title to land is the process of confirming the title of the vendor or owner of the land as deduced by him. The aim of the investigation is to know if the title to the land is defective and ascertain if the land has a good title. Upon receipt of the epitome of title, the purchaser’s solicitor is to ascertain the genuity or otherwise of the documents. In Nigeria registration of title to land is mandatory however it is trite that registration of land in Nigeria does not cure defects in that title to land. See Omosanya v Anifowoshe (1959). Therefore, investigation of title to land is of utmost importance and should rank in priority over registration. It is the duty of the purchaser’s solicitor to investigate the title on behalf of his client in other to note defects in a property.
The stages of investigation are as follows:
- Traditional investigation
This is a meeting with members of the family wherein the family head or the head of the town will be present to verify the root of title, ownership of the land and to ascertain if the land is family-owned or individually owned.
- Physical inspection of Land
The importance of physical inspection cannot be overemphasized. This is usually done with a surveyor present alongside the purchaser’s solicitor. The aim of the physical inspection is to confirm the exact description and size of the property where the specific property to be purchased is already ascertained. It is also to ascertain if the land is vacant or encumbered. Some encumbered lands may be bare but would still contain warning signs such as Buyers beware /Caveat emptor to deter purchasers from buying land which is already encumbered. This would also reveal if the land is affected by any dispute.
- Physical inspection of the documents
This inspection of the document is to ascertain the real owner or owners of the land. It is also to know if all the relevant documents have been tendered and to ascertain the history of possession of the land, root of title and the authenticity of the documents.
- Search at the Land Registry & Surveyor General Office
Conducting a search at the land registry and office of Surveyor-General is for the purpose of discovering any encumbrance on the property and to ascertain the true owners of the property. Only lands that have been registered can be searched for at the land registry. Any land, regardless of whether it is registered or not, can be charted at the office of Surveyor General. This search will reveal the true owner and position of the property as to acquisition by the government. It will also reveal other information such as whether the title documents presented by the seller are authentic, and if the land is registered, it will also reveal if there are any mortgages, liens, or other encumbrances on the property. In Lagos State, the land registry and office of Surveyor General are in Alausa, Ikeja.
- Search at Corporate Affairs Commission
Asides from a search at the land registry, lands that belong to corporations incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act should be subjected to a further search at the Corporate Affairs Commission. This is to reveal if there are encumbrances on the company that can affect the title to the property such as floating or fixed charges.
- Search at the Probate Registry
This is important in cases where the seller became the beneficiary of the land by virtue of a will. It is important to search at the probate registry to ascertain the true administrators or executors of the estate, as well as the validity of the grant of Letter of Administration or Probate. The probate registries are located and part of the High Court of States.
As an intending purchaser seeking to purchase land or any landed property in Lagos or any part of Nigeria, it is advised that most stages as stated above should be adhered to before purchasing any property. This will help any intending purchaser to avoid buying a property with defective titles. It is therefore very important to conduct a proper search and do due diligence before purchasing any lands in Nigeria.