21 February 2019

Kenya: Government Makes Land Searches Easier

Are you aware that the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning has made land searches easier for you as an individual through the eCitizen platform?

Kenyans can now enjoy the fruits of the ongoing digitisation process at the ministry.

"The ease of doing land searches at the click of a button is a welcome idea for us as a country. Land ownership verification in counties where the digitisation process has been finalised is now possible and affordable by individuals. Currently, this service is available in Nairobi County, with other pilot counties in advanced stages," says Sylvia Kamau, founder and director of Re/Max Taji, a company that sells property, and who often has to do land searches.

Digitalised verification, according to Mwenda Makathimo, the executive director of the Land Development and Governance Institute (LDGI), will help clients circumvent brokers, who he says have taken over many land offices around the country, making it difficult for many citizens to access crucial services.

He, however, notes that even though this platform is a step in the right direction for the real estate sector, a lot of work still needs to be done in making it efficient.

Makathimo, who was speaking recently during the release of a survey on land governance by the LDGI, also noted that digitisation at lands offices will cut costs and the distance that Kenyans have to travel to get to the land offices.

"In Nairobi one has to start from Ruaraka (the land survey headquarters) to get a map, before going to Ardhi House for a search, then City Hall for planning," he said while calling for full automation and digitisation of all processes at the county offices.

"The leadership of land matters in this country needs to address public needs effectively," said Makathimo, noting that land offices have been hijacked by land brokers, turning them into an industry.

"As of now, automation in the land sector is scattered and we are calling the government to streamline the process, if it is keen on helping Kenyans," he added, noting that land offices in Kajiado and Kiambu counties, which had been inspected for the survey, depicted a lack of consistency in the process.

"For instance, you find titles not updated on the official map at the registries, and the fear is that another person might come with a title deed to the same parcel claiming the same land on the ground," he noted.

A step on the right path

However, Ms Sylvia Kamau, who has used the eCitizen interface, particularly that of Nairobi, says all one needs to do is to simply log in to their eCitizen account and under the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning section and choose "Make Application".

The app gives the applicant a raft of tasks and queries that can be performed, including transfer of property, query and payment of land rates, transfer of ownership, search of land ownership records, caution and withdrawal of cautions, among other utilities.

She says one no longer has to make the trip to the lands office for such simple enquiries.

"For instance, when you click on the option to 'Search Land Ownership Records' and follow the prompts thereafter, you will require a copy of the ownership document or title deed you are performing a search on and upon paying a minimal fee, all you have to do is wait for a day or two and you get your desired results, unlike the long wait and hefty fees one had to part with there before, to get this done by lawyers physically at the Land Registry," she says.

She, however, advises anybody engaged in the process, even online, to engage a lawyer for purposes of carrying out due diligence.

"It is paramount to engage lawyers in all land transactions for their invaluable input and advice and to protect yourself against fraudsters," she says.

According to her, the input of professionals like real estate agents, lawyers, valuers and surveyors isn't made redundant by the digitalised system, but rather, their input is now more transparent and easier to achieve.

"The many fraudsters and court cases witnessed in this country over fictitious property sold and paid for by unsuspecting buyers could become a thing of the past with this new tool. However, not all counties have completed the digitisation process but once this is achieved, owning property anywhere in Kenya will be much easier for citizens and the diaspora," she adds.

Don't be left behind

In light of the new development, property owners are encouraged to register their property's details on this platform via eCitizen and keep the records updated with any changes that take place on the property.

The Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning through the Lands Registry Department will verify the information provided when one registers and uploads property information on the platform with the records they have at hand and the support documentation provided.

Buyers and sellers can also track the conveyance process via the "Track Application" option. This saves time as one doesn't have to keep visiting the ministry's offices or a lawyer to get an update.

"At Re/Max Taji, this process is a crucial part of our ongoing operations because performing due diligence on properties listed on our website for sale, protects the buyers. One of the brand's missions is to bring transparency and transformation in the real estate agency business which will ensure that we safeguard our reputation. When real estate systems and processes are digitised, the acquisition and disposal of property can only become efficient for all parties involved," she adds.

"This will help our trained agents, who maintain a high level of professionalism and integrity, to assist a lot of people in buying and selling their properties. It is therefore paramount for us to provide added benefits such as this of performing due diligence to differentiate ourselves," she says.

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