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Title deeds change: What you need to know of digital era

By Peter Theuri | January 28th 2021
By Peter Theuri | January 28th 2021

Residents from Mwicuiri Settlement Scheme in Kieni, Nyeri County celebrates after they were issued with title deeds. [FIle, Standard]

In the second week of January 2021 in a WhatsApp group of graduate surveyors, to which this writer belongs, one member shared a screenshot of a notice said to have come from the Lands ministry.

“Do you own land in Nairobi? Pursuant to the Gazette Notice of 31/12/2020 (Special issue) (Vol.CXX11-N0242) NOTE THAT LR numbers for ALL Land in Nairobi have been CHANGED or converted. Check the Gazette Notice to see your new Land Reference (LR) NUMBER,” read the post.

“Is it true?” posed the member in the accompanying message. The ensuing debate was as informative as it was confusing.

Turns out the notice was authentic and has in recent weeks left many Kenyans confused about what it means for landowners. 

Kenya’s title deeds, previously issued under multiple legal regimes, are being brought to a single regime under the Land Registration Act of 2012. The conversion commenced on January 12.

“Pursuant to regulation 4 (4) of the Land Registration (Registration Units) Order, 2017, the Cabinet secretary for Lands and Physical Planning, having received from the registrar conversion list and cadastral maps in respect of Nairobi Land Registration Unit, hereby notifies the general public that land reference numbers specified in the first column of the Schedule have been converted to new parcel numbers, specified in the second column thereof, with corresponding acreage respectively specified in the third column,” read a notification of conversion signed by Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney.

So what has changed? Starting April 1, all transactions or dealings relating to parcels of land within the registration unit shall be carried out in the new registers.

But the cancellation and replacement of the title deeds migrate the parcels to the new regime without changing the ownership, size and other interests registered against the respective title. The phased exercise, which starts in Nairobi, is expected to cancel and replace all title deeds issued under old laws. The laws include the Indian Transfer of Property Act, 1882, the Government Lands Act (Cap 280), the Registration of Titles Act (Cap 281), the Land Titles Act (Cap 282) and the Registered Land Act (Cap 300), which were repealed by the enactment of the Land Registration Act.

The conversion will involve the Lands ministry preparing cadastral maps - a comprehensive land recording of the real estate’s metes-and-bounds of a country - graphical indices of parcels, and a conversion list which shows the old land reference number alongside the new one.

“We are going to migrate the titles in all the counties starting with Nairobi, which is going to go fully digital in a month,” said CS Karoney.

The nationwide process, which is being carried out free of charge, is supposed to continue until the end of 2022.

The process is expected to speed up service delivery in the lands departments, as well as address threats to the right to property.

It is also expected to curb fraud as the Registry Index Maps (RIMs) will now be solely used to support registration of titles under the Land Registration Act.

Previously, deed plans were also used despite their glaring inaccuracies.

They are meant to show the intended purpose of the land.

But unlike deed plans, registry index maps (RIMS) are generated from survey plans with fixed boundaries, which helps retain the accuracy of boundaries.

Mismatching information

“The migration is a good exercise because it is going to reduce cases involving stolen land. If you go to the Survey of Kenya and look at RIMs and deed plans, you will find many irregularities and mismatching information. You could find double registration, property owned by two or more individuals because the system is not harmonised,” said Bernard Wanjohi, a Nyeri-based land surveyor.

“Land in urban areas is mainly stolen because of poor documentation of who owns it. Lease land has parcels that are supported by RIM and others by deed plans.”

While the exercise aims at streamlining land administration, it has been dogged by scepticism.

Matters of land are sensitive, such as cultural beliefs that prevent some communities from selling ancestral land.

“Ownership of land has always been seen as a show of might. Control of the land resource is considered a measure of an individual’s stature and social standing,” said Institution of Surveyors of Kenya President Abraham Samoei.

Others buy land for speculative purposes, with the issue of valuation also a major concern, especially in urban centres. Valuers have decried the trend, with some insisting that land in Nairobi is overpriced.

Complaints also abound about the quality of service and fraud in land registries. Njau Gitu, an educator and a director at the Australia Education Global Advisors (AEGA) said while the government means well with the digitisation of title deeds, many beneficiaries may not understand its importance.

“Many, especially the older generation, might be afraid that someone is up to something cheeky. The disclosures they have to make ahead of the change of the title deeds may make them feel as though they are surrendering their properties,” said Mr Gitu.

But conveyancing expert S K Muturi explained that there is no need for landowners to panic, explaining that the government is not cancelling titles but changing numbers to make digitisation possible.

“A title deed is prima facie evidence that the land belongs to you, but is a sum total of a lot of history including survey and amalgamation. This history will not change even when the numbers are changed. You will remain the owner of your land,” Mr Muturi explained in a past interview.

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