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Land Litigation issues in Ghana have the tendency to derail all your efforts in acquiring a prime piece of land. Purchasing land is a fantastic long-term investment to make. The benefits, including low maintenance costs and security, are numerous. You may have read everything you need to know about buying land in Ghana; searched lands for sale in Ghana online; found an ideal piece of land for sale; and taken all the necessary steps you can think of to finally make that purchase.
You’re a happy investor with grand plans for your land. Then you’re served with a court summons over ownership. How do you wake up from the nightmare that the investment you’ve just paid good money for faces several land litigation issues? The obvious answer is to avoid falling into the trap in the first place. How can you avoid such land litigation issues in Ghana?
What is land litigation? It is a dispute that arises when two or more parties believe that they are the rightful owners of a piece of land. These disputes can arise mainly through family feuds, abuse of power by government officials, corruption amongst chiefs and stool bearers.
This article on how to avoid land litigation issues in Ghana has been broken down into 6 parts for easy navigation. Click on any topic below to get started.
Before beginning your search for land to buy in Ghana, and to avoid potential land litigation issues, it is important to understand the laws surrounding land acquisition and purchase; especially the law on who owns land in Ghana. The first thing to know is this, no one individual owns land in Ghana! All lands belong to the state, traditional authorities and families and clans. Lands owned by individuals and private entities are simply leaseholds lasting 50 years for expatriates and 99 years for citizens (it’s a 50 to a 70-year ratio where commercial property is involved).
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of lands in Ghana. These are customary and public lands. Customary lands are those owned by traditional authorities (stool in the southern belt of Ghana and skin in the northern belt). Public lands are those either owned by the state or held in trust on behalf of traditional authorities. These lands make up about 20% of all lands in Ghana while the majority, i.e, 80% are customary lands. Public and customary lands are further broken down into four smaller types. These are:
Stool lands are a type of customary land under the custody of chiefs. These lands are held in trust on behalf of the people in traditional communities by the occupants of stools and skins, in accordance with customary law and usage. Accordingly, stool or skin refers to the traditional authority (usually a chief) exercising that control.
Family lands are those lands owned by families before and even after the coming into law of the 1992 Constitution. These lands are managed by the heads of families assisted by principal family members. If you’re about to purchase family land, it is important you do business with the head of the family and no one else.
State lands are lands owned by the state and consequently, by all citizens. These lands include any land that has been vested in the Government of Ghana for the public service of Ghana and any other land acquired in the public interest. This, however, excludes all lands in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana. Ghana’s state lands are solely administered by the Lands Commission. (1992 Constitution, Chapter 21, Act 257).
Vested lands are those plots administered by the state on behalf of the stool or skin. These are usually owned by the state and customary authorities in a form of partnership i.e. split ownership (Wordsworth Odame Larbi – Compulsory Land Acquisition and Compensation in Ghana: Searching for Alternative Policies and Strategies, 2008).
The 1992 constitution of Ghana identifies two types of interest in land ownership. These are:
Freehold lands are those that are owned outright by the landowner for an unlimited period, with landowners having the freedom to dispose of the property at will. This means the landowner – be it the stool, family or state – is the eternal custodian of the land. There are two types of freehold land interest. They are:
In a paper titled “Land Acquisition in Ghana and Security of Interest in Ghana“, Mensah Gorman describes it as an interest in land held by sub groups and individuals in land acknowledged being owned allodially* by a larger community of which they are members.
According to Mensah, common law freehold is an interest in land which is held for an indefinite period and is derived from the rules of common law. It is created only by express grant and could be acquired by both strangers (Ghanaians outside the land-owning community) and members of a stool or a family.
The major difference between customary freehold interest and common law freehold is the instrument that backs it. The former is backed by customary law and the latter by the Constitution.
A leasehold or lease is a temporary right to occupy a land or property for a specified period. There are secondary types of land ownership and interest in Ghana especially tenancy (which is essentially a lease less than 3 years). Mensah Dorman goes in depth on those types in his paper on Land Acquisition in Ghana.
* The allodial title is a real property ownership system where the real property is owned free and clear of any superior landlord. In this case, the owner will have an absolute title to his or her property. – US Legal. The allodial title is the highest land title recognised by Ghanaian law. (Kasim Kassanga and Nii Ashie Kotey, Land Management in Ghana: Building on Tradition and Modernity).
So you’ve read up on Ghana’s land laws and are ready to make that purchase. You’ve browsed the land options on meQasa.com and found just the land you’re after and for the right price too! The next steps are to perform due diligence, make payments and claim ownership to avoid any land litigation issues.
Due diligence is simply a careful audit you perform on the property you’re interested in. This is to confirm that whoever you’re about to do business with is genuine; that the land they claim to be representing actually exists and that they’re legal representatives.
The first step in performing your due diligence is to conduct a search at the Lands Commission (for an Indenture) or the Land Title Registry (for a Land Title Certificate). This search helps you track previous and current transactions on the land. This is to ensure that the land you’re interested in isn’t already owned by another person or entity. This simple process will stall any land litigation issues that may arise and save you lots of time and money. Submit the necessary documents (usually a cadastral or site plan) and pay the necessary fees at the Lands Commission.
A rule of thumb when performing your due diligence is to inquire from the people who live close to your interested land. This is to ascertain rightful ownership as well as to gather information on potential issues surrounding the land. It’s especially helpful in figuring out who is responsible for the sale of land in the area. It’s also a nice way befriend your future neighbours who might come to your defence in the event of land litigation issues.
The next step is to seek the services of a real estate lawyer to review all paperwork and ensure everything is in order. You should also employ a valuer to determine the value of the land you’re about to buy. The valuer will help determine whether or not you’re being cheated with overpriced land or if there should be cause for concern when the land is priced too low.
The best way to pay for land in Ghana is via Bank Transfer. You should avoid direct cash payments at all costs as these can easily open you up to fraudsters who will present you with seemingly genuine receipts. Before you pay, draft a purchase and transfer agreement endorsed by you, the seller and witnesses from both sides. You must register your interest with the Lands Commission once the land rights are transferred to you.
It is important that you show some form of possession to avoid encroachers and to announce that the land has a new owner.
You can do this by fencing your demarcated property and visiting the property regularly. You can also consider the services of a caretaker, although this is a risky venture.
GeoMapers does a fantastic job detailing all the steps involved in land rights transfer and registration you should definitely check out.
There are a number of ways to find land to buy in Ghana. The best ones are through:
Purchasing land in Ghana without adequate information can be disastrous for you. It is important that you arm yourself with the advice offered in this article to avoid potential land litigation issues. You can also complement the information contained herewith other articles on land acquisition in Ghana. If you, however, seek to understand the ins and outs of looking for accommodation in Ghana, specifically in the capital of Accra, the Accra Housing Guide is an invaluable resource you can tap into. Whatever you do, you have to heed these tips to conduct a safe and smart online property search.
By Fiifi Kumi-Sakyi (BSc. Land Economy) and Jason Kpodo-Tay.