Simplified land deed bill could see owners caught out

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 May, 1999, 12:00am

Flat owners could become homeless overnight under a controversial bill that reverses the century-old practice of checking land deeds.

Lawyers warn a loophole in the Land Titles Bill means a flat owner might unknowingly lose his property rights.

The 4cm-thick bill, which was to be tabled to Legco in March, has been delayed after strong reservations by the legal sector.

The bill seeks to simplify the existing 150-year-old practice of going through old and musty deeds to ascertain the rightful owner of a piece of property during a property transaction.

Instead, it proposes a new registration system where anyone who registers himself at the Land Registry as the owner will be the property's legal owner.

The bill also proposes a 'midnight conversion', which means transferring to the new system overnight.

Calls for changes mounted about six years ago after a court case in which a woman whose name was on a deed sold her flat to a third party without telling her husband.

The husband disputed the deed, arguing he was the one who actually paid for the flat. The court subsequently ruled in his favour and the innocent buyer was ordered to return the flat.

Hong Kong Conveyancing and Property Law Association supports the principle of the new system but warned against possible abuse.

'An owner might lose his flat, say, after returning from a long vacation overseas during which a trespasser breaks into his flat and fraudulently sells the unit to another person,' association chairman Leung Siu-hon said.

'Under the new system, the buyer will still be the legal owner because he has registered his title and physically occupied the flat.' The Heung Yee Kuk also opposes the idea. A kuk spokesman said land transaction in the New Territories in the old days was not that systematic and some of the deeds had gone missing.

Principal assistant secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands Esmond Lee said the concerns would be addressed before the bill was formally tabled to Legco.