Investigation of Title to property is the process of confirming the title of the vendor as deduced by him. It involves anything and everything that will reveal any defects in a property to be purchased.
The purchaser’s solicitor should investigate the title of the vendor after the vendor has deduced his title. Thus, the practice is that as soon as the purchaser receives the abstract/epitome of title (that is to say photocopies of all documents evidencing the vendor’s ownership of the landed property), the purchaser should proceed to verify the authenticity and genuineness of the documents relied on by the vendor to establish his title. Investigation of title also involves ascertaining whether the vendor is in possession.
The major aim of investigation of title is to see if any defect exists in the title deduced by the vendor. It is usually done by way of searches conducted in all necessary places and offices where there may be particulars or details of the property and also on the property itself.
The solicitor should look out for answers to the following: Who are the parties? What is the identity of property? When was the Deed or Conveyance Instrument created? Was the Deed or Conveyance Instrument properly perfected? Where a company is a party to the transaction, ascertain whether the powers in the Memorandum and Articles of Association are intact? Where a Donee of a Power of Attorney is a party to the transaction, ascertain whether the Power of Attorney is subsisting or revoked and whether he has the power to act? Where the document of title presented is a Will or Letters of Administration, ascertain whether the assent/probate/letters of administration are valid? How is the soundness of root of title?
Investigation of title may involve all the following steps:
- Searches at the Land Registry/Ministry of Lands; Abuja Geographical and Information System (AGIS), Probate Registry, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) Company’s Registry. The latter is applicable in situations where the vendor or past owner is a company incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act. In such cases, apart from the searches at the Land Registry/Ministry of Lands, there should be a further search at the Corporate Affairs Commission. The essence is to know whether the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the company allow the company to deal with the property the way it intends to.
- Visiting and inspecting the property to ascertain whether the description fits and whether there is vacant possession by finding out from neighbours if there is any issue, or to find out for yourself the actual size of the land and whether it conforms to the dimensions of the land at the Land Registry/Ministry of Lands. For example, most landlords place the inscription – “This Land is Not for Sale” or “Caveat Emptor”.
- Investigation of traditional title if necessary, especially in the case of customary or community land and by this we mean a search conducted on the principal members of a family in respect of family or communal land or on the community and heads of the community, where the property is subject to family or community ownership, to confirm that all relevant consents were obtained and that the title is neither void nor voidable.
- Investigation of court judgments and orders, if any to see if the land is subject to any court litigation, and if any, the outcome of the dispute; or whether the vendor is a personal representative or beneficiary in a probate dispute which entitles him to convey the property or if the title is based on a Court issued certificate.
- Examination of abstracted documents (critical inspection of photocopies of documents submitted by vendor to ascertain the names, description of the property and signature of the parties).
- Confirmation of the survey plan given by the vendor to the purchaser with survey plan in the Surveyors General’s Office.
- Raising requisitions (critical questions) gleaned from information in the Abstract/Epitome of title.
Proper investigation of title also entails knowledge of the geographical demarcation of the state in question for property transactions. In Akwa Ibom State, for example, it involves knowledge of areas under the control and management of Akwa Ibom Property and Investment Company (APICO) and areas under Ministry of Lands.
All in all, the need for investigation of title can hardly be over emphasized, especially in the light of the huge amount involved in property transactions. Investigation of title DOES NOT only apply to sale or purchase of land or landed properties, but also extends to mortgage and lease transactions.
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