JIS News

There are a number of rules and conditions regulating government land settlements across the island. However the purchasers of these lands and a significant portion of the wider public are unaware of them and as such often find themselves in problems with the National Land Agency (NLA), the regulatory body handling these lands.
Speaking with JIS News, Felicia Wiltshire, Manager of the Corporate Legal Services Division at the NLA sought to clarify how these settlements were governed.
A land settlement refers to a housing or agricultural scheme. It was a post-Independence concept, conceived by the Government to redistribute land, empower the poor and give land to the landless in Jamaica, Ms. Wiltshire explained. “It was about putting people in possession of property and giving them time to pay, and also giving the Government of Jamaica time to put in the necessary infrastructure culminating in the issue of a registered title,” she continued.
Most land settlement agreements gave the purchasers in possession or allottees, 25 years to pay for the land, at the end of which time the government, through the Commissioner of Lands, would issue a registered title.
As applies to any sale agreement, however, there are rules and conditions, which must be met and adhered to by both sides. These are outlined on the Notice of Allotment, which is sent in writing to the allottee by the Commissioner of Lands, as an indication that the allottee has been accepted for an allotment.
“On payment of a deposit, the allottee is placed in possession of the land, and from that date, he is liable for the payment of property taxes and he also has to make half-yearly instalments on the purchase price,” Ms. Wiltshire explained.
If the land settlement is agricultural, the property must be properly cultivated and utilized for the specific purpose.
There are, however, some regulations and conditions governing land settlements, which pose problems for the allottees and by extension, the NLA, disclosed the Legal Services Manager. One such issue is the sale of the land.
“The rules and conditions of government land settlements give the allottee the right to sell his property before a title is issued,” Ms. Wiltshire said.
When property is purchased and the deposit is paid, the purchaser becomes an equitable owner of the property, and so can transfer his/her land with the consent of the Commissioner of Lands. The caveat in this type of transaction is however, that the allottee must sell ALL of the land, “not half of the land or a part of the land, but ALL of the land,” Ms. Wiltshire stressed.
The measure is intended to prevent fragmentation of land, which may be contrary to restrictive covenants on title, which stipulate that the property must not be further subdivided.
While the allottee is allowed to sell his allotment before the title is issued, this transaction is subject to the payment of Transfer Tax, to be paid by the allottee (vendor) and Stamp Duty, by both purchaser and vendor. The forms are available at any Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) office.
Additionally, NLA is grappling with a situation where allottees of government land settlements are either breaching or abusing the regulations.
“What is happening now is that there is massive fragmentation of land. For example, if one half acre of land was sold, persons are subdividing or cutting up the land for sale or distribution.
“Sometimes it’s the family members giving each other house spots and as mentioned before this creates a problem as there may be a restrictive covenant against further sub-division of the property,” Ms. Wiltshire pointed out.
The Commissioner of Lands cannot provide titles for these illegal subdivisions, she continued, so when persons unwittingly or otherwise purchase a part of these properties the new “landowners” are unable to secure a registered title from the Commissioner.
“The Commissioner of Lands will not honour that agreement as it is in breach of the rules and conditions governing land settlements. The Commissioner of Lands will proceed to issue a title to the original allottee and the original allottee is contractually bound to get titles for the purchasers of the property,” the Manager informed JIS News.
However, as a result of the restrictive covenant on the title, the allotee will have to go to the courts and make an application to have it amended or discharged, and the application is not always successful, Ms. Wiltshire further explained.
“It is a risk that the purchaser takes in buying that property, and a lot of them, when they subsequently come in to the Commissioner of Lands agitating for a title, say that they are not aware of this stipulation. So, if one is buying into government land settlement schemes, one needs to be aware of what the rules and conditions are governing those schemes,” she cautioned.
In instances where the allotee breaches or refuses to comply with any of the provisions of the regulations, the Commissioner of Lands has the option of forfeiting the allotment, and all monies paid by the purchaser. As such, the NLA is encouraging allottees to closely adhere to the regulations and also be timely with the payment of their instalments.
“They got 25 years to pay and there are still incidents of non-payment of purchase price, and the rules and conditions speak to the Commissioner of Lands forfeiting the land for non-payment.
We therefore urge the allottees to come in and pay or visit the nearest RADA office to speak to a Lands Officer and communicate any difficulties they may be having in meeting the payment dates,” Ms. Wiltshire advised.

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