Before Buying a Property (a Land or a House) in Nigeria, there are plenty of things you need to do first!
Land interest can only be transferred via specific documents. It is noteworthy that the following documents are not authentic means of transferring an interest in land:
Power of attorney
Certificate of Occupancy
Words of mouth
Contract of Sale
However, the above-listed documents can be required to acquire a property but none of them is sufficient to stand as a sole document to validly transfer an interest in land. Just a brief explanation of these documents:
Power of Attorney: This is simply a document authorizing a person (Donee) to act on behalf of another (Donor). As it relates to land, it could mean selling, using, or managing the property on behalf of another person. However, it does not make the Donee the owner even when the
Power of Attorney is irrevocable. It cannot be inherited from the Donee after death.
Governor’s Consent/Certificate of Occupancy: The Governor’s consent is evidenced by issuing a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O). However, a C of O does not confer the land ownership on the buyer.
The Governor is indeed consenting to the actual document transferring the ownership of the property to the buyer, in the absence of which the Governor has nothing to consent to.
Words of Mouth: Property cannot be purchased by word of mouth. This is because the document that transfers ownership must be registered with the land registry, and it will also be required to obtain the Governor’s consent.
Contract of Sale: A contract of sale is suitable for transferring ownership of movable properties. However, it is only to commit the owner to sell on the agreed terms in a land sale. It does not on its own transfer interest in the property. To the big question, what can be used to transfer land ownership? After conducting all the checks mentioned above, the following are steps to take in purchasing a land:
Prepare and sign a contract of sale Prepare and sign a Deed of Assignment Obtain Governor’s Consent/Certificate of Occupancy Register the Deed of Assignment at the Land Registry Where the owner of the property is late, the buyer must request a copy of the Probate Letter or Letter of Administration. Let’s consider why each of these procedures is necessary.
Also, when buying a family land, ensure that the deed of assignment is signed by the head of the family and principal members of the family. In Lagos, the name of the head of the family and principal members are usually registered at the Land Registry.
Contract of Sale: This is important to commit the seller to the sale while you conduct all the necessary checks. The buyer might be required to make some deposit to a third party or the Solicitor handling the transaction. The buyer will be refunded his deposit if the sale could not be completed due to inadequacies in documentation or lack of requisite authority to sell the property.
However, this contract will prevent the seller from selling to another person.
Deed of Assignment: This document transfers the ownership of a property to another person, from the seller to the buyer. This is the only valid instrument that can transfer ownership of the property.
Governor’s Consent/Certificate of Occupancy: After the Deed of Assignment has been signed by both the buyer and the seller, the next step is to apply to obtain the Certificate of Occupancy. In the process of doing that, the Governor’s consent would also be obtained.
Register the Deed of Assignment at the Land Registry: This Registration at the Land Registry is essential. This is because where the seller fraudulently sells the property to more than one person, it is the first person to register that owns the property by law.
The registration of the Deed of Assignment makes the ownership of the buyer priority over any other person, including any other person with a Certificate of Occupancy. This means even when the seller sells to another person and is able to procure the Governor’s Consent, it still does not make the subsequent buyer the owner. Even where the person registers another deed of assignment at the land registry, the buyer who first registered would be recognized as the actual owner under the law.
Probate/Administration Letter: A probate letter is given by the Court to the Executor of the Will of a deceased person. However, where the dead person had no Will, a Letter of Administration will be issued to the Administrator of the Estate of a deceased person.
Essentially, once a person dies, the person no longer owns any property. Anyone who sells the properties once owned by a dead person without first obtaining either of the letters has acted unlawfully, and the sale is invalid. Even when the person is a beneficiary of a Will, the property can not be transferred to such beneficiaries without a probate letter. Hence, it is always important to request a copy of either letter and the Will where there is one to ascertain that the seller was named the beneficiary of that property under the Will.
In conclusion, here are some red flags on property acquisition in Nigeria:
Do not purchase properties without proper documentation. Do not buy properties where the ownership of the property is currently disputed in Court
Do not purchase the property of a late person without having a copy of the letter of administration or probate letter. Do not buy property from anyone who is not the owner or has no authority to sell the property on behalf of the owner.
Do not buy a property that has been used as collateral for an undischarged loan (that is, the loan has not been fully repaid).
Considering the property issue in Magodo, the Residents purchased a property when issues regarding that property are yet to be resolved by a Court. The buyers would have seen this defect if they had conducted a search at the Court Registry where the land is located.
Purchase of properties without a perfect title implies the purchase of whatever liability that comes with it. The buyer will have to pay the debt or lose the property to the Creditor where there is an outstanding debt.
This reemphasizes why the first step to take in acquiring any property is to visit the Land Registry.