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Land registry ‘to crack down on cheats’

New register: Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch announced changes in the House of Assembly at Sessions House (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A new register of land ownership will crack down on people who try to cheat vulnerable owners out of their property, MPs heard yesterday.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said the new land title registry would end a “sorry and deplorable” history of real estate agents and lawyers swindling clients.

Colonel Burch explained: “This system will provide for the guarantee of legal ownership of land and the simplification of conveyancing transactions.”

He added the register would become “the definitive record of title” and that any further transactions could be carried out quickly and at low cost.

Colonel Burch added: “Further, once a title is registered, title to that land is guaranteed, and cannot be lost or stolen.”

He said that land exchange on the island came with a “long and sad history”, in which many had been cheated by “unscrupulous professionals, and even at times by family members”.

He added that landowners who opt to register their deeds would obtain absolute title.

He said that property owners would “finally” be able to secure their real estate, and “the land that they worked so hard to obtain, their piece of the rock that they want their children and grandchildren to inherit and maintain after they are gone, their legacy, will for ever be safe”.

Colonel Burch added: “It is unconscionable to this Government that landowners would have to pay lawyers’ fees for

this service, so we will amend the Act to remove the requirement for a lawyer to examine the deeds.”

Staff at Government’s Land Title Registration Office will instead carry out searches and grant registered titles.

The modernised system will come into force at the start of next month.

Colonel Burch said the change will complete the move from a deeds-based registration system that dated back to 1999.

Shady practices in the real estate market sparked a debate in the House of Assembly in 2014, when the Progressive Labour Party was in Opposition.

A Commission of Inquiry was approved by Parliament, but it was never authorised by the Governor.

Colonel Burch predicted “great interest” from the public and that voluntary registration would start by appointment only to allow the office to handle the workload.

To read Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”