I REFER to your readers' letters headlined, 'Puzzled by need for a Land Titles Bill' and 'Illogical' (South China Morning Post, May 30 and June 1, respectively).
It was suggested that there is little public demand for a land title registration system in Hong Kong. This is probably because the general public are usually not concerned with land registration matters but rely mainly on solicitors to deal with land transactions.
A land title registration system will offer greater certainty of title, simplified conveyancing procedures and statutory protection to property owners and purchasers.
Under the present land deeds registration system, deeds and other documents relating to property transactions are submitted to the Land Registry for registration. These documents are registered in a land register which the Land Registry maintains for each property.
This system of registration only confers priority on registered deeds according to their respective dates of registration.
It does not confer on a deed any validity it does not otherwise have.
The existing system provides a means whereby title to property may be traced.
However, title can be established only if it can be proved that the deeds registered are free of defects and that the property concerned is not subject to any claims which may or may not be registered with the Land Registry.
Therefore, the present land registration system does not guarantee that the person registered as owner on the land register is necessarily the legal owner of the property. The inadequacies of the present system are: Title to property cannot be established easily and with certainty; Old defects or uncertainties in the title of property are carried forward indefinitely; The redevelopment potential and value of some properties are affected as a result of old defects or uncertainties in their title; The legal procedures for dealing in property are cumbersome and sometimes very complicated.
The proposed Land Titles Bill has been designed to overcome these problems.
The fundamental change which the Land Titles Bill seeks to make is to establish the land register as conclusive evidence in law as to the title of the property that is registered.
Under the proposed system, once a person is registered in the land register as the owner, his title to that property is indefeasible.
There will be no need to look behind the land register and study old property title deeds to establish his title. His name will appear on the land register as the current owner and he will be, in law, the legal owner of the property until he disposes of the property and the new owner is registered.
The proposed land title registration system will have the following benefits: Title to property can be established easily and with certainty - the land register will be conclusive evidence of title; Property purchasers can be sure that the registered owner is the legal owner; Titles to property acquired by purchasers in good faith will not be affected by claims which are not registered in the land register - defects or uncertainties in title which affect the value and redevelopment potential of some properties will be brought to a definite conclusion; Property conveyancing will be simplified as it will not be necessary to look at old title deeds to ascertain if the registered owner is the legal owner.
Free copies of the information leaflet on the Land Titles Bill can be obtained in all offices of the Land Registry and district offices.
KENNETH T. W. PANG Land Registrar