What you should know about your land title

Wednesday March 24 2021
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A lady checks out the features on her land title. Studying the features on a land title before engaging in a land transaction is one of the things a buyer can do to avoid being duped. PHOTOs/Ismail kezaala

By Gabriel Buule

The 1998 Land Act indicates a land title as one of the most fundamental instruments to show proof of land ownership in Uganda.

According to the 2019 Uganda Police crime report 2019, about Shs3b was lost as a result of obtaining money by false pretence and 42 certificates of titles were recovered with all cases attached to land titles.

Social rights activist and lawyer Milly Nassolo Kikomeko, says many people have fallen victim of land fraud and grabbing because they lack knowledge on what legal documents are important in a land transaction.

She says much as the land title is one of the most important documents in land ownership, some people are not able to tell the difference between a fake title and an original one.

Genuine title

Nassolo notes that a title must bear official signature from the issuing office, which is the regional land office, and official seals gazetted by the government, among other details.

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She also shares that any valid land title must bear a block number, blue page and the encumbrance page.

Besides the validity of the title, Nassolo notes that one should also pay attention to the status of the holder because non-Ugandan citizens can only own lease titles.

She adds that the law clearly defines property rights of all lawful and bona fide occupiers (legally defined) and what instrument a person must hold.

Nassolo advises that before carrying out a transaction, one has to carry out a land title search and look out for the details and the history of the land title.

Latest security features

In October 2020, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development released new features that land titles have to bear. The new security features are meant to guard against fraud and forgeries in land transactions.

The spokesperson of the Lands ministry, Dennis Obbo, notes that the land title unlike before, has to bear a unique matrix bar-code, National Identification number, telephone number, post office number and email address.

He adds that it has to be with a duly authenticated print out of a map. The title is printed on four pages on a special paper, which is the same country-wide. Obbo emphasises that it must bear the official water mark.

Ownership

He notes that any Ugandan is free to acquire a land title on freehold, lease hold, mailo or customary land title as per the law. However, he adds that each tenure has got its specific procedure of title acquisition.

Applying for a freehold title

He says in order to apply for a free-hold, which is the more popular, one has to fill form 4 ,10,23 and form 19. That should be accompanied by an area land committee report, district land officers technical report, passport photographs, national identification card, letter from district land board and payment of fees.

The fees include registration fee, assurance of title fee, issuance of title fee and application fee.

He also reveals that all this can only be done in person since no one can acquire a title on behalf of the other.

“The title can be processed and acquired by the owner and even minors,” he adds.

However, in case of minors, it has to be indicated that they are minors at the time of acquiring the title. He says titles can be acquired from any Lands zonal office and a free hold title can be acquired in 10 working days. 

Mailo land

He says for mailo land, one needs a transfer form, consent form, and a photocopy of the  title.

He adds that after getting those particulars, anyone seeking to acquire a title under mailo tenure has to submit transaction documents for assessment to office of the chief government valuer to pay stamp duty, which is 1.5 per cent on the current value of land, and registration fee. The transfer is made in 10 working days.

Land title search

For any Ugandan to verify a land title, one has to conduct a title search that can be done physically or online. Nassolo, however urges advises that it is very important and effective for a title to be searched physically prior to any land transaction.

Obbo reveals that for a physical land title search, which can be done at Lands office in any region, one has to make a written request for a search addressed to the commissioner, land registration giving the description of the land.

He adds that one has to indicate whether the said title is for land on mailo, leasehold, or freehold. The county, block and plot number, leasehold register volume freehold register, folio number and volume folio number.

He also notes that the application is presented to the Office of Commissioner, Land Registration and stamped “by the commissioner’s secretary and approved by a Registrar of Titles on behalf of the commissioner.

Obbo notes that the application is forwarded to the Records Section to retrieve the file’s availability, and then the bearer is sent to the ministry’s cashier to pick a pay slip and make the payment.

Finally, the bearer pays the fees in the bank and obtains a receipt that is presented to the Land office. On verification of the receipt, the registry copy is retrieved and a search letter signed by a Registrar of Titles is issued to the bearer within three days after presenting the bank receipt. It should be noted that in 2017, title verification went digital when government launched ebiz, an online portal where the public can check the validity of land titles and make other business transactions.

Under the new arrangement, for anyone to access their certificate of title from the ministry, they must be coded with holders’ National Identification Numbers (NINs), according to a public notice published in the national gazette on February 1, 2020.

The Law

The Registration of Titles Act commenced on May 1, 1924, which was later amended by Mortgage Act, 2009 (Act 8 of 2009) on September 2, 2011 indicate that “certificate of title” or “certificate” means a certificate of title issued by the registrar under the act. 

The act empowers the registrar of titles appointed under section three and includes the deputy registrar of titles so appointed and any assistant registrar of titles or land registry assistant so appointed to the extent that he or she has been authorised to exercise or perform any power or duty conferred or imposed by this Act upon the registrar of titles to issue and sign on land titles.

History and the titles

Land records in Uganda go back to the 1900 Buganda Agreement, which distributed land in Buganda.

According to a paper published by the Acting Director of Land Management at Ministry of Lands, Sarah Kulata, the country’s chief surveyor arrived in 1901 after the signing of 1900 Buganda Agreement.

Isaac Mpanga, a lawyer, reveals that following the Buganda mailo survey in July 1904, provisional and final land certificates were provided to all people in Buganda who were allocated land.

He adds that in Uganda, the first land titles were made in 1908 and distributed by Governor Sir Hesketh Bell on January 2, 1909, when the provisional and final land certificates became Uganda’s first land records.

Data provided by the Uganda Land Use Policy indicates that the total surface area of Uganda is about 241,500 km2, of which 194,000 km2 is land, and the rest is open water and wetlands.

The land and the titles

The volume of land in Uganda covers 241,040 square kilometres with only 197,100 square kilometres of physical land.

A report by Land links indicate that most  rural people have rights to their land through customary tenure arrangements (representing 75 per cent to 80 per cent of landholdings).

Only 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the land is formally registered.

It is only the Government that is allowed to print land titles in Uganda. Much as Buganda Land Board was allowed to issue titles (Customary Certificate of occupancy), it only facilitates the legal procedures to getting titles on land within Buganda’s mandate.

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