The number of land disputes pending at various courts in Ghana bears testimony to the problems surrounding land acquisitions. One false step in the acquisition process has the potential to lock the buyer in an expensive and never ending litigation in Court. This article provides some practical steps a potential purchaser can follow to reduce the risk of litigation
As Sarbah famously said, there are no ownerless lands in Ghana. Lands are generally owned by stools, families, individuals/corporate bodies and the government (either through commercial or compulsory acquisitions). Thus any acquisition of landed property will have either one of the above as the vendor. Irrespective of who the vendor is the processes needed to acquire landed property in Ghana are about the same.
First, the potential purchaser must conduct a physical inspection of the land to ascertain the suitability of the purpose for which the landed property will be used for.
Next, the purchaser must investigate the title of the seller to establish ownership of the property. If the landed property is within a registration district, the purchaser must request a copy of the Land Title Certificate from the vendor. The purchaser must then conduct his or her own independent check at the Lands Commission (the government body tasked with the registration and protection of ownership of land) to ensure that the search result conforms to the Title Certificate obtained from the vendor. The purchaser can also submit the Title Certificate together with the site plan to the Lands Commission for authentication purposes. Before embarking on the search, it is important to get a Quantity Surveyor to match the physical property with the property as captured in the site plan.
If the property is outside a registration district, then the purchaser must trace the root of title of the vendor from the Deeds Registry to ascertain the right owner of the property.
In addition, the potential buyer must also conduct a search at the registry of the Law Court and the Traditional Council where the property is situated to ensure that there are no on-going disputes affecting the land. From experience, another important practical step is to conduct enquiries of people in the neighborhood, especially watchmen, caretakers and orderlies. Because this category of persons is always present in the neighborhood, they notice almost all the activities on the land.
It is very critical that the buyer deals with the rightful owners of the landed property or their duly authorized agents. It is only the owner(s), their lawful representatives or their agents who are clothed with the legal authority to alienate the property. Thus, if the vendor is a ‘stool’, then the purchaser must deal with the ‘stool head’ who act with the consent and concurrence of the principal members of the stool. If the vendor is a family, then the right persons to sell the property are the head of family acting with the consent and concurrence of the principal members of the family. Where the property is owned by a body corporate, a duly authorized director will have enough power to alienate the land. If the property is government owned, then it is the Lands Commission that is clothed with statutory power to alienate the land. Individual owners of land sell directly or through an agent to the purchaser.
By operation of law, most landed property in Ghana can only be acquired through a lease. The purchaser must therefore ensure that the term of the lease is adequate for the purposes for which the property is being acquired. Most importantly, the lease must have a renewal clause with very minimal limitations to ensure that where necessary, the purchaser would be able to extend the term of the lease.
Once the transaction between the parties has been concluded, the purchaser must take immediate steps to have the documents processed, stamped and registered accordingly. The period between the conclusion of the sale/lease and registration is very critical. At this time, the purchaser may have already paid the consideration in full, however until the registration process is completed, a search at the Lands Commission or Deeds Registry will continue to indicate that the vendor is the rightful owner.
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