Buying land is probably the biggest transaction most people are ever likely to make during their lifetimes. As such, it is vital that you do your homework beforehand, also known as “due diligence” to be sure of what you are buying.
When buying registered land, it is important to be sure of who the owner is. The best way to do this is to obtain a certified copy of the land register from the Registrar of Titles office upstairs at the Ministry of Lands HQ building, after paying $30 per copy at the cashier downstairs. To be absolutely sure you are getting the real certified copy, get it yourself unless you absolutely trust someone to get it on your behalf. Certified copies can be altered and re-photocopied using a colour photocopier to make them look like the original copy. The copy of the Perpetual Estate will show who is the freehold owner of the land and whether there are any caveats on the land title which would prevent any further dealings, such as transfers of the Perpetual Estate. Only Solomon Islanders or a Solomon Islands Government or Provincial Government authority can own Perpetual Estates. On the reverse side of the Perpetual Estate register there will be a record of any encumbrances on the land title, such as a Fixed-Term Estate, Lease, Easement, Bank Charge or Grant of Profit. It is important to understand each of these encumbrances and what implications they have for who can occupy the land and what they can do with it.
At the next level down, Fixed-Term Estates and Leases operate in much the same way. They run for a particular term stated in years, and there is usually an annual land rent to pay to the Perpetual Estate owner. There are usually other obligations as well, spelt out in the original grant of the Fixed-Term Estate or Lease, such as a requirement to develop the land for a particular purpose (residential, commercial, industrial, etc) and perhaps a minimum value of the construction of such developments. There may be limits preventing the land from being transferred soon after being granted. Again, it is important to understand all these conditions, by obtaining a copy of the grant instrument that the Estate is based on, and reading the conditions carefully.
My office does not deal with land sales on purely customary level, and such land and sales are not registered. I do however come across situations where people have paid so-called customary landowners for land, only to find out later on that the land is registered and not owned by customary landowners at all. In these cases, you have wasted your money buying land from people who do not own the land. Due diligence can avoid such situations, for example by visiting the Ministry’s mapping section to view the satellite images superimposed over property boundaries to determine whether the land you are interested in is registered or not.
Finally, I am also aware of so-called land sales particularly on FaceBook “buy and sell” of land that is not in a state that is readily available to allow for a proper transfer of land title to be registered. One type of example is land that is owned by the Commissioner of Lands on behalf of the Solomon Islands Government but which someone else is claiming is theirs. Again, by obtaining copies of the land register you can determine the true ownership. Another example is the sale of land that is only defined by its dimensions, for example “20 x 20 metres”. If there is no unique lot number and parcel number just for the area you are interested in buying, then it can’t be transferred to you, because it has not been subdivided. If multiple land areas are being advertised for sale within the one same parcel number, this is another sign that the land has not been subdivided, and there are no unique parcel numbers for each of the land areas for sale, and therefore no ability to register the transfer of each individual land area. To avoid disappointment later on, take the time to research the situation properly rather than jumping in without thought.
Commissioner of Lands