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Demystifying Trinidad and Tobago Property Law: What You Need to Know about Land Law

This article discusses in general terms some aspects of property law, it is no substitute for consulting with a lawyer on your specific legal issue.



property in trinidad and tobago


Introduction


Any Trinidad and Tobago lawyer would agree that no area of the law produces more litigation in Trinidad and Tobago than property law. It is the branch of law that governs the rights and obligations of owners, buyers, sellers, and tenants of real estate. It covers a wide range of issues, such as contracts or agreements for sale, deeds, mortgages, leases, easements, liens, and foreclosures. Disputes in property law take a large share of the judiciary’s resources. Our property law is largely based on the principles of English common law, which has been adopted and modified by many countries around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago.


Why is it important to keep proper documents?



property law deeds and certificate of title


One of the most essential aspects of property law is having an effective system of document management. This means keeping accurate and complete records of all the transactions and events that affect the ownership and use of real estate. Proper documents can help you to:

·      Prove your title and ownership of the property

·      Protect your rights and interests against third parties

·      Avoid disputes and litigation with other parties

·      Comply with the legal requirements and regulations

·      Facilitate the transfer or sale of the property


Very often clients meeting with their lawyers do not have any copies of their title documents. This causes delays in giving proper advice and additional expense because the document must be sourced from the registry by a title clerk and if there is no reference for a document number (deed number or CT reference, discussed below) this process can be time consuming.


What are the main documents in property law?


The main documents in property law vary depending on the type and nature of the property and the transaction involved. In Trinidad and Tobago lawyers generally refer to title of land as being part of two systems of land ownership, common law deeds or the Real Property Ordinance/Act often called “R.PO.”


Some of the most common documents are:


  • Deed: A deed is a written document that transfers the ownership of the property from one party to another. It usually contains the names of the parties, the description of the property, the consideration (price or value), and the signatures of the parties and witnesses.

  • Certificate of Title: Often called a “C.T.” this is the equivalent of a deed for land that falls under the R.P.O. system of conveyancing. The Registrar General issues a duplicate CT to the owner which is a large legal certificate on the back of which endorsements are made for transactions affecting the property.  The duplicate copy of the CT must be presented to the Registry to register a transaction. Where the duplicate copy is lost, an application can be made for the issuance of a new certificate.

  • Mortgage: A mortgage is a document that creates a lien or security interest on the property in favour of a lender, who lends money to the owner or buyer of the property. It usually contains the names of the parties, the amount and terms of the loan, the description of the property, and the rights and obligations of the parties. These are often done by financial institutions but they can also be done by private individuals (private mortgage).

  • Lease: A lease is a document that grants the right to use and occupy the property for a certain period of time and under certain conditions to a tenant, who pays rent to the owner or landlord of the property. It usually contains the names of the parties, the duration and terms of the lease, the description of the property, the rent and other charges, and the rights and obligations of the parties.

  • Easement: An easement is a document that grants the right to use a part of the property for a specific purpose, such as access, drainage, or utility, to another party, who does not own the property. It usually contains the names of the parties, the description of the property, the purpose and scope of the easement, and the duration and terms of the easement. These are usually incorporated into the documents transferring title.

  • Lien: A lien is a document that creates a claim or charge on the property in favour of a creditor, who is owed money by the owner or buyer of the property. It usually contains the names of the parties, the amount and nature of the debt, the description of the property, and the priority and enforcement of the lien.

What is the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act of Trinidad and Tobago?


The Conveyancing and Law of Property Act of Trinidad and Tobago is a law that regulates the transfer and registration of real property in the country. The Act applies to all types of real property, such as land, buildings, and minerals, and to all types of transactions, such as sale, purchase, mortgage, lease, easement, and lien.


Section 4 of the Act requires that any transfer of an interest in land must be in writing or evidenced in writing:


(1)     No action may be brought upon any contract for the sale or other disposition of and or any interest in land, unless the agreement upon which such action is brought, or some memorandum or note thereof, is in writing, and signed by the party to be charged or by some other person thereunto by him lawfully authorised. 


What is the Real Property Act of Trinidad and Tobago?


The RPA establishes a system of land registration that is based on the Torrens system, which originated in Australia. The Torrens system is a method of recording and certifying the ownership and encumbrances of land through a single document called a certificate of title. The certificate of title is issued by the Registrar General, who maintains a register of all land parcels in the country. The certificate of title is conclusive evidence of the ownership and interests in the land, and any person who deals with the land in good faith and for value can rely on the certificate of title without having to investigate the history or validity of the title.


The need for proper records



documents showing receipts for all land transactions


The need for proper record keeping is therefore not just good practice but is also a legal requirement to enforce interests in land.


Whilst there are interests in land that a court can recognise (e.g. equities, discussed in a later article or the extinguishing of a title by adverse possession), it is advisable for landowners to maintain a written record of all transactions, even those that involve relatives. If no formal conveyance is prepared there should be a record in the form of an agreement that sets out the purpose for which any party is being given permission to use the land and the compensation, if any, being paid.  This helps to create a documentary trail of the transaction should it ever need to be proved in court.


Finally, once there appears to be a dispute regarding property, it is advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible since limitation periods apply and landowners who act too late can lose their title or persons who have an interest in land that a court would recognise may lose the opportunity to bring a claim if not acted upon expeditiously.

 


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