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Here is why you should check your land records often

So you think with your title deed under lock and key your property is safe? You pity those who get evicted and wonder how they got duped into buying someone else’s land.

But just how safe are your important land ownership and transaction documents at the lands office?

Just ask Mr Reuben Wamburu Karoba from Githiga in Githunguri, Kiambu County. In 2012, Mr Karoba was given a quarter-acre piece of land by his father, and together, they sought to transfer the title of the property to his.

But there was a hitch. His father had taken a Sh20,000 loan from the Kenya Commercial Bank in 1975 with the land as the security, but after repaying the loan, did not get a discharge

letter clearing the title deed of the loan attachment.

So when they went to the Kiambu Lands office, they were advised to get the discharge from the bank to facilitate the transfer. Through their lawyer, his father wrote to the bank on April 7, 2014.

Attached to the letter to the bank manager were copies of a search sheet and a green card bearing his father’s name, John Karoba Ihuha, which they had got from the lands office as instructed by the bank. The documents, dated February 19, bear the lands office stamp and the signature of the officer who served them.

The discharge was issued on July 8 and on July 28, 2014, Mr Karoba got a title deed, No. T 72, bearing his name.

HIDDEN DOCUMENTS

Two months later, Mr Karoba sought to confirm whether the transfer had been effected. A fresh search was conducted on September 12 and signed by a lands officer confirming that the property had already changed from his father’s name to his.

All was well until August this year, when he received a call from a close friend telling him that he had overheard his name being mentioned at search section of the lands office, and that he believed that something was amiss.

“He advised me to visit should visit the lands office to check, just to be sure that nothing fishy was going on,” Mr Wamburu told DN2.

Armed with his title deed, Mr Karoba went to the lands office to conduct a fresh search on his property. To his surprise, the clerk who attended to him told him that the green card was missing.

Another clerk was asked to search for the document but still could not find it.

“I was shocked when, after telling the clerk that the green card for the title deed I had was missing, she told me that she had earlier looked for it in vain as she tried to remember on whose behalf she had been looking for it,” he recalls.

He thought it might have been misplaced within the office, but the document was nowhere to be found.

A green card is a document that holds the original records of all transactions relating to a piece of land and that serves as a reference document. The information on the title deed must tally with that on the card. Without a green card, you cannot claim to be the le call on whose behalf and why shegal owner of a property even if you have a title deed.

A recent evaluation indicated that the property was worth Sh18 million, which Mr Karoba now risks losing, thanks to the disappearance on the green card.

He says that during the period he has been making follow-ups at the Kiambu offices, he has met several other people with the same problem.

Mr Richard Kioge, a surveyor, said such cases are common, adding that they involved clerks at the lands offices who are bribed to sneak out or hide vital documents.

Mr John Mwaniki, the director of Jekmas Services, which manages and sells property, says he has come across several cases, adding that, although there are procedures getting your green card replaced, someone risks losing their property.

He cited the case of a granny who had the green cards for her two properties in Zimmerman cancelled at the lands office without her knowledge, but was able to have them replaced with the help of the police and a lawyer.

TAMPERED RECORDS

Mr Mwaniki, says there is a well-connected cartel that involves insiders, who hang around lands offices and are used to sneak out vital documents from files without the knowledge of the real owners.

He says when someone is interested in a particular property, he or she connives with the cartels to pluck out the original green card and have new one issued to facilitate a sale or grabbing.

“They are so clever that they even maintain the original green card despite having processed a new one, such that when you visit the offices for a search, they will produce it, but the fact is that there is another one that has already been used to process a title deed,” Mr Mwaniki says.

This explains why someone else can claim ownership of a property you recently bought, and for which you even have a title deed.

But it’s not only with the green cards that are tampered with: other documents that are plucked from files are clearance certificates, which provide proof of property sales agreements.

There is also interference with caveats, which are normally put to prevent any dealings on a property (except for specific statutory exceptions and any specifically permitted dealings) until the caveat is formally withdrawn.

For instance, Mrs Joyce Kimani from Limuru says she placed a caveat on their family land at the lands offices to prevent her husband from selling it. However, after a few weeks she learnt that he had already withdrawn it and sold the land.

“It’s very unfair that you place a caveat for a good reason, only to find out that someone else withdrew it and you were not informed. There is nothing you can do, especially in a case where the land has already been sold and the money used.” she says.

Mr Njogu Munyua, the officer in charge at the Kiambu lands office, says such incidents are inevitable. “These officers are human beings so you can expect such this to occur.”

Mr Munyua told DN2 that such incidents often occur without their knowledge, but when reported, investigations are conducted and appropriate action taken.

“We have come across such cases but after we investigate and confirm that a document was plucked out of a file, we initiate the process of replacing it. In Kiambu, we are very vigilant once such a case is reported but in most cases, stolen documents are used to process new ones with ulterior motives,” Mr Munyua said.

LOST FILES

He added that the ongoing digitisation of lands records will go a long way in remedying the problem, although industry players warn that those whose documents were stolen but are not aware might lose them forever.

“If your document is missing or had already been replaced after it was stolen from the records safe, what information will they feed into the computer? Definitely, it is the new one, and nothing will be fed regarding your ownership so you will end up losing property,” Mr Joseph Ndichu, a surveyor, says.

Last year, during an audit of the central registry, the depth of corruption in the Ministry of Lands was revealed after it was discovered that some 10,000 files had gone “missing”.

During the exercise spearheaded by suspended Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu, it was discovered that officers hide files and then claim they cannot find them so that they can be bribed to find them.

Last week, The National Land Commission (NLC) Chairman Muhammad Swazuri said documents for a controversial five-acre parcel of land in Dunga Unuse, Mombasa, which can confirm what the real owners of the land are, cannot be traced at the Mombasa Lands Registry.

Source: Dily Nation

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