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CONDUCT OF SEARCH ON PROPERTY

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Real estate fraud in Nigeria is becoming increasingly alarming. The rate at which people are defrauded of their hard-earned money has raised issues for concern. Based on the foregoing, the onus lies on the prospective buyer to carry out all necessary due diligence before acquiring a property other than the physical inspection, which is a vital step in property acquisition.

Furthermore, it is fundamental for a prospective buyer to verify the title of the seller to the property. Failure to carry out this verification might become prejudicial and adversely affect the buyer in the event the seller’s title is defective. It is a trite principle of law that a person who does not own a property, especially a thief, cannot confer it on another person except with the true owner’s authority. This principle of law is expressed in the Latin maxim ‘nemo dat quod non habet’.

Further to the above, verification of title is an essential aspect of any property transaction and is a condition precedent before the payment of purchase price by the prospective buyer. It is impossible to embark on verification/inspection of the land without checking the authenticity and/or validity of the seller’s title documents which may vary depending on the nature of the transaction. In some instances, due diligence would be conducted to verify the Certificate of Occupancy, Survey Plan, the registered Deed of Assignment, registered Deed of Lease, Gazette, Layout Plan, Wills, Probate and Letters of Administration, Offer Letter, Memorandum and Articles of Association, Board Resolution, registered Power of Attorney, etc. The foregoing documents may have been relied upon conjunctively or disjunctively by the seller as its title document.
Depending on the particular document relied upon by the seller, searches can be conducted in any of the following places:
  1. Land Registry: The onus lies on the buyer, who is to make payment of the purchase price, to verify the Seller’s title at the Land Registry where the seller’s title deed is registered. It is pertinent to mention that only registered title document can be confirmed at the Land Registry. Upon a search conducted at the Land Registry, it will reveal the status of the seller’s title and whether at the period of conducting the search there are any registered encumbrances on the property.
  2. Surveyor General’s Office: Where the property to be acquired does not have a registered title and an intending buyer is desirous of knowing the status of the property, the Surveyor General’s Office is the right place to go. The buyer can apply for the Land Information Certificate or Charting information with respect to the land. This will reveal whether the land is free from government acquisition, excised, under acquisition or committed.
  3. Probate Registry: This is a registry in the Court that deals with matters relating to the estate of a deceased person. If the holder of the registered title is deceased and the seller relies on Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration as part of its title documents, there will be need to conduct a search at the Probate Registry to determine the authenticity of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.
  4. Court: It is important to conduct a search at the Registry of the Court to know whether there is any pending litigation in respect of the property to be acquired.
  5. Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC): Where the Seller is a company, it is advisable that a search be conducted at CAC to know whether there is an existing registered charge on the property and determine the status of the company.
  6. Inspection of the Land: It is important to inspect the property by physically visiting the property in order to verify the status of the property and to ask relevant questions from the occupants/owners of adjoining properties with respect to the ownership of the property.

The foregoing are the basic due diligence measures to be undertaken to prevent or minimize the risk of real estate fraud. It is also sacrosanct to engage the services of real estate professionals to assist the buyer in all levels of the real estate transaction.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice from our company or any of its employees. Professional advice should therefore be sought before any action is taken thereon.