New Land Title Registration Scheme: Q&A with Tim Stewart, Land Title Legal Officer
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Denis de Frias is a director in the firm's property, trusts and estates practice group and is responsible for the firm's property practice. Mr. de Frias has over 15 years of experience in a broad range of property transactions including condominium development, complex financing structures, residential and commercial real property sales and purchases.
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In a post from 2017, we discussed how it was expected that Land Title Registration would go live in 2018. Since then, several important steps have been taken toward bringing the land title registration regime to Bermuda. The Land Title Registration Amendment Act 2018 has been passed both by Parliament and the Senate and is expected to be given Royal Assent very soon. This will then enable the Land Title Registry Office to begin accepting applications for voluntary registration.
In this post, we have taken the opportunity to interview Land Title Registry Officer, Tim Stewart, to ask him all about voluntary registration, what the application procedure is, how long it is expected to take and cost, etc. See below our questions and Tim’s answers.
MJM: How does someone voluntarily register their property? What is the procedure the applicant has to follow?
Tim Stewart: Once the new Land Title Registration system is fully operational anyone who owns land in Bermuda will be entitled to make a voluntary registration application to register their land/property at any time. Please note that such applications will only be accepted by the Land Title Registry Office (‘LTRO’) on an appointment basis. Prospective applicants will, therefore, need to send an email to LTROappointment@gov.bm and receive their appointment date/time before they can come to the LTRO.
When they come to the LTRO, they should bring all of their original deeds with them. They will be asked to complete LTRO forms (Forms A5, R17 and Form DL) and sign them. These forms will give the LTRO the information it needs to be able to complete their application. The Form DL (which stands for Document List) will be a complete list of all the deeds left at the LTRO. Once the LTRO officer has checked the form and the deeds, he /she will sign a duplicate copy of it, and this will become a receipt for the deeds left at the LTRO by the applicant.
MJM: How long does the process take and what does it cost the applicant?
Tim Stewart: There is no set time frame for the completion of a registration application. The time needed will depend on the completeness and quality of the deeds lodged at the LTRO. If there are deeds or other documents missing, then it is highly likely the Land Title Officer who is dealing with the case will raise queries (officially known as ‘requisitions)’ with the owner. Such queries will be sent by email and post. If a title is in order, then it is hoped the relevant officer will be able to process it in a matter of days. The total time taken will depend very much on the circumstances of each case.
The LTRO registration fee is based on the value of the property and a sliding scale as contained in the Government Fees Regulations 1976 (as updated from time to time). In voluntary applications, the owner will self-certify the value of their property. To give you an example the lowest band (properties $0 -$100,000) will cost $100 to register and the most expensive $1,000,001 and over will cost $1,300.
MJM: What is the procedure for voluntary registration when a property is encumbered by a mortgage?
Tim Stewart: The procedure for the application will be the same as outlined in no.1 above. The deeds will need to be obtained from the bank concerned. We are not sure yet whether the bank will release the deeds to their customer or arrange for them to be sent to the LTRO directly.
MJM: What steps does the LTRO take to be satisfied that the applicant has good title to the property?
Tim Stewart: The LTRO will review the title in the same way a local attorney would. This will include going back 20 years and conducting the usual searches, e.g. with the Supreme Court, Planning Department etc. If there are any matters which the LTRO is uncertain about, it will raise requisitions with the owner.
MJM: What are the benefits of voluntary registration?
Tim Stewart: The benefits of land registration are the same whether the application was lodged on a compulsory or voluntary basis. They include the following:
A guarantee from the Government that a person owns a piece of land once they are registered as its owner.
If a person has taken out a mortgage, they will be recorded as being the owner of the property rather than their mortgage company being the owner (as happens in the current system). There will also be no need to re-convey the property back to the owner when the mortgage has been satisfied.
Once registered, an owner will be able to check their registration online 24/7.
Registration will give owners better security of tenure, e.g. it will provide owners with better protection from adverse possession claims.
Once registered, if the deeds to a property are lost or destroyed it will not matter as the LTRO will keep scanned copies of any deeds which contain rights which affect a property.
Those people whose deeds have already been lost or destroyed will now have an official route by which they can re-establish their title. They will be able to apply for registration on a provisional title basis only, and if no one has made a competing claim against the land within 20 years (the current limitation period), then they will automatically be able to apply to have the title upgraded to ‘absolute’ title. This is the best form of title there is.
MJM: What does the applicant do with their deeds afterwards?
Tim Stewart: Once a registration application has been successfully completed the deeds will be returned to the owner of the property. On rare occasions, we may seek the owner’s permission to send deeds which we believe to be of significant historical importance to the Archives Department of the Bermuda Government. We recommend that ALL applicants retain their deeds even though they will no longer have any legal effect. Applicants should bear in mind that the LTRO will only keep scanned copies of those deeds which contain rights or obligations which still affect the property. We will not scan all of the deeds automatically.
Please also note that applicants should retain the original survey plans for their property as the electronic copies of them kept by the LTRO will not be relied on as the plans are distorted slightly when they are scanned.