Buying a Property? Be Wary of Properties with Published Notice of Loss of Document"
The challenging task of purchasing land and other types of properties in Nigeria correspond to a great extent with scarcity of housing for inhabitants to buy or rent. Fraudster’s have come up with different ways of duping innocent property buyers of their hard earned money. One of the elements among the trending methods used these days is the false declaration of missing land or property documents in a bid to obtain replacements of the genuine land-owner’s original documents, which fraudsters use to sell properties or lands to unsuspecting members of the public or to secure loans from a bank. Other fraudsters may choose to clone or forge existing land and property documents. It is now common knowledge that some government officials connive with these fraudsters to perpetrate forgery and illegal sale of properties. Sometimes these unscrupulous government workers conspire with property fraudsters to confirm the authenticity of forged documents as genuine property documents.
Property buyers need to be aware of the procedure for obtaining a replacement of land or property title? According to the Lagos State Land Bureau, application and issuance of a new certificate involves the following requirements:
- Application letter requesting for the issuance of a new Certificate.
- Two (2) copies of the following information/documentation (spiral binding).
- Affidavit of loss (passport photograph attached).
- Police Report on the missing document with full details of Title.
- Certified True Copy (CTC) of the Title document.
- Two (2) extra sets of colored passport photograph (5 by 5) with white background.
- Valid means of identification of the applicant (a copy and the original).
- Letter of authority (where application is being processed on behalf of title holder).
- Original and photocopy of payment receipts.
Many people and business entities have been victims of property fraudsters that impersonate genuine land-owners. How do unsuspecting land or property buyers ensure they are not caught in the web of activities perpetrated by property fraudsters that impersonate original land and property owners? With an estimated national housing deficit of 17-20 million, it is normal for a prospective land or property buyer’s interests to be aroused on seeing a sign or advert that says “Property for Sale in Lagos” or “Land for Rent in Lagos”, this interest should be matched with equal level of skepticism. If property fraudsters could sell lands or properties with dubious titles to risk conscious corporations likes banks and other large organisations, then you as an individual with no ingrained culture of due diligence is an easy prey for them. Here are the rules to follow:
Always be Skeptical
Be a skeptic immediately you see an advert or sign that says “Land for sale in Lekki”, “Property for Sale in Lagos”, or “Land for Sale in Lagos”. Remember that for every “Land for Sale in Lagos” sign or ad you see, there are more than equal number of signs, notices, and caveat emptor that says “This Land is not for Sale”, “This Property is not for Sale” or “Land not for Sale, Beware of 419”.
Trust No One
You can’t be too careful during land or property transactions. Remember, it is your money and only you know how long and how much effort it took to come up with the fund required for this life-time investment. Always ask questions. If you notice any irregularities in any of the documents, flag them and probe further.
Don’t be Rushed into Making Decisions
You should always see hasty attempts to conclude land or property transactions as a red flag.
Perform an Independent Search.
As an individual, be ready to go the extra mile in ensuring that the documents presented to you are genuine. For instance, in the case of a land title, one of the procedures for obtaining a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the Deed from the Lands Registry, Alausa is for the required documents to be registered at lands registry. The registration shows that the original documents are indeed lost. As an individual, you can independently get one or two different officials at Lands Bureau to confirm if truly the document is registered in the lands registry as a missing document. Also, meet with members of the communities where the land or property is situated. Ask about its owners, its history etc. For instance, you can meet the Baale or community leader to inquire about the history of such land or property.
Exhaust Available Online Resources
Go online to use property due diligence resources and tools that are available on the internet. While it is true there aren’t many of these locally, there are few ones out there that you can start with. A good example is the tools and resources that are available on LANDSNG.COM.
Hire a Professional
Employ the services of a seasoned real estate professional or property lawyer to do background checks in order to know the history of the land or property as well as background checks on the seller. It is okay if you can do a search on your own but getting a third opinion is full proof.
These real estate professionals and lawyers are more knowledgeable in the field and would carry out due diligence in analyzing the authenticity of the documents presented by the seller.
Look for Notices, Caveat Emptor and Other Relevant Red Flags
Look out for old or recent notices or caveat emptor that include the name of the property seller or information about the property. For example, these may be survey plan number, street address and house number, plot number and block number, history of trespass or forced entry, litigation record, mortgage or foreclosure record, etc. And you want to know if the seller has history of previous crime or fraudulent activity. This also apply to the real estate professional or lawyer you employ since some of these real estate professionals have been implicated in the past in fraudulent sale of lands and properties across the country.
What if Property Belong Jointly to Family Members
Land or properties that belong jointly to several family members are often problematic when one member of the family choose to go ahead to finalise the sale without the knowledge of other family members. There are so many cases of impersonation of property-owner. One good example is a property dispute that ended up in Lagos High Court in Ikeja for a property located on St. Finbarr’s Road, Akoka, which was allegedly sold to Diamond Bank through a third-party company that claimed it acquired the property from the owner sometime in 2007. While Diamond Bank alleged that it bought the property sometime in 2007, ten children of the deceased owner, who are claimants in the case alleged through a death certificate from Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) that their father passed away at the age of 80-yrs in 1990 and thus could not have sold the property himself to any of the defendants. The interesting part of the story, as narrated by the claimants, is that their eldest brother lived in the property until December 2007, and that he impersonated their deceased father to sell the property without their knowledge. Among the documents the defendants claimed the owner handed over to finalise the transactions are a receipt, a deed of sale, an affidavit sworn to by the owner with a police report, and other necessary documents. The judge in this case barred the defendants from further trespass into the property.
It’s imperative to note that Nigeria’s real estate sector has been seriously infiltrated by fraudsters. Unfortunately, local laws are not stringent enough to deter them and they often take advantage of the inefficient judicial process to continue to perpetrate their acts. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to assume that you are on your own. As a prospective land or property buyer you must be very diligent in investigating the real estate you are interested in.