Deeds registration

Irish Registration of Deeds revenue stamp of 1902

Deeds registration is a land management system whereby all important instruments which relate to the common law title to parcels of land are registered on a government-maintained register. Deeds registration systems were set up to facilitate the transfer of title. The system had been used in some common law jurisdictions and continues to be used in some jurisdictions, including most of the United States. It is being replaced by Torrens systems in many jurisdictions. Australia, Ireland as well as most Canadian provinces have converted from deeds registries to Torrens titles. Some Canadian provinces have never operated a deeds registry and have always used Torrens titles. Other Canadian provinces which have converted from a deeds registry to Torrens titles have operated both systems in conjunction until the Torrens system gradually superseded the deeds registry system, as was the case in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick during the 2000s. In the Canadian province of Ontario, electronic registration led to Ontario's version of Torrens title covering almost all land, but the past deeds registration still governs some issues.[1] Hong Kong and the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island are the only provinces left which still operate a deeds registration system.

In contrast to the Torrens system in which basically the one who registered in a land registry as owner of a piece or parcel of land has an indefeasible title of the land, deeds registration system is merely a registration of all important instruments related to that land. In order to establish one's title to the land, a person (or usually their purchaser's attorney) will ascertain, for example:

  • all the title documents have been properly executed,
  • "a chain of title" is established, i.e. the proper ownerships from the granting of the land from the government to the current owner,
  • there are no encumbrances on the land that probably will harm the title of the land.

Duty to give and show good title

Since, in contrast to the Torrens system, the registry is merely a record of all instruments related to the land, the "owner" as shown on the land registry record (or common known as "land search record" in Hong Kong) does not necessarily mean that he has a "good title", which means a title that is not defeasible or potentially defeasible.

In a sale and purchase of land, a vendor is required to show a "good title" to the purchaser. Since the land search record is not conclusive, it leads to problems when a vendor has to prove his title, in particular when the land is old or involves multiple encumbrances. This may lead to litigation if the parties cannot agree on whether a good title is shown.

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