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Due diligence on land is not just a search at the lands offices

COMMENTARY
By Nashon Okowa | April 13th 2019

This city is callous when it comes to land dealings. Land sellers have become crooked and can go to any length to outwit unsuspecting buyers. Regrettably they have constantly succeeded in their trickery mostly due to buyers’ ignorance but also to some extent our lackluster approach to serious issues. We always somehow resist to stretch our effort when making such important decisions. We are witnesses to harrowing experiences on what bad land deals can result to especially on construction projects.

But what does it take to do due diligence on a piece of land before buying? About four years ago I was involved, as a project manager, in a project in Kisauni, Mombasa County. The client, having just procured the land, tasked us to undertake boundary wall fencing before embarking on its development. While doing this, the county government came and dug a storm water channel across the land, breaking the boundary wall. On protest we were shown a county approved land subdivision scheme of the plot that had a road cutting through.

Apparently, and unknown to the buyer, the previous land owner had carried out subdivision of the land approved by the county and then stopped at that without proceeding at lands department to complete the process. At the county government, the land is subdivided and in fact they planned the area on this basis while the reality at Ministry of Land is that the title is still one. Such a case cannot be revealed by just doing a title search at lands office, it is important that due diligence on a piece of land be carried out at county government offices as well.

In another case, a client was seeking to purchase a piece of land in Runda. They in fact made deposit payment after carrying out search at lands that indicated all was okay while actually it wasn’t. The land owner had actually imported red soil and spread a layer across the land to hide clay soil below. He then planted grass on it that was well watered. On face appearance it looked an irresistible red soil piece of land fetching hundreds of millions while actually it was a swamp. The matter is ongoing in court. This is just one scenario, I have heard of several cases where a soil stratum is interfered with to dupe a buyer. When buying land especially for development, it is important that you dig a few trial pits on the piece of land to just ascertain the structure below. It’s 2019 don’t fall to this common lazy trap by just doing a search.

In addition, carry out beacon identification. Carrying out this exercise after obtaining the survey plan from Directorate of Survey is much advised. This will indicate whether the land size indicated on the tittle and plan matches what is on the ground. Also this can reveal any encroachment on the land. If there is an existing property with utility services, it is advisable to get the utility bills from respective companies, especially power, water or even land rates, to ascertain whether they were being paid for and by who. Further, I recommend visiting the local administrator in the area to elucidate more on the piece of land. Their land ownership history is impeccable and you know incase trouble awaits you ahead.

Everyone has upped their game of outwit in nearly every business dealings in this city and I admit that it may be impossible to fully ring fence against being duped but at least try; go down knowing you tried. We have made it too easy to be conned when it comes to buying land by being indolent or should I say careless. Take your time to do proper due diligence before plunging your resources into buying a piece of land- It goes way beyond doing a search at lands office. It takes a week or two to undertake what I have discussed above. Why hurry? This is 2019, we can do better.

- The writer is chairman of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya. ([email protected])

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