Immovable property, such as houses and residential stands, is popular means of investment in Zimbabwe. Due to our country’s economic challenges and prevailing cash shortages, many prudent investors use property as investment vehicles to secure their wealth.
In particular, Zimbabweans in the diaspora see investing in houses and stands in Zimbabwe as a way of ensuring they have somewhere to land their feet if they ever return home or as a means of earning supplemental income from rentals.
However, for both Zimbabweans based locally and abroad, investing in real estate is not without its perils. Fake title deeds are prevalent in the market and have resulted in people buying houses only to realise they were conned by sellers who did not own the houses that were purportedly sold.
Therefore, if you are planning to buying property or real estate, this article will explain key information that may one day save you time and money.
What is title and how does it affect property?
The word title relates to a person’s rights in respect of a certain piece of property such as the rights to ownership, use and possession. Title confirms that a piece of property exists and can be in respect of movable, immovable and intangible property such as intellectual property. Title is at the heart of property rights which seek to ensure people are not illegally deprived ownership, use or possession of property where such rights exist. There are different types of title and these are typically embodied in a written document such as a deed of grant, sectional title and title deeds.
Which laws apply to property title in Zimbabwe?
In Zimbabwe, the primary legislation governing property title is the Deeds Registries Act [Chapter 20:05] (“the Act”) which sets out the rights and related registration of title in immovable property. The Companies Act (Chapter 24:03) also applies with regard to ownership and transfer of shares involving a company as will be discussed further below.
In addition to the Act, property rights are enshrined in section 71 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe of 2013. Section 71(2) of the Constitution states that subject to certain limitations, “every person has the right, in any part of Zimbabwe, to acquire, hold, occupy, use, transfer, hypothecate, lease or dispose of all forms of property, either individually or in association with others.” Furthermore, section 72 of the Constitution caters specifically for rights in terms of agricultural land.
Intellectual property rights, which we will discuss in more detail in a separate article, are mainly catered for in legislation such as the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act [Chapter 26:05].
Who are the key players in authentication of title?
When seeking to authenticate or verify ownership in a particular piece of property, it is important to know and make use of the following key players:
The Deeds Office falls under the Department of Deeds, Companies and Intellectual Property, which is a subset of the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. It contains a comprehensive record of ownership of all immovable property in the country and it is the primary source for registering or verifying ownership of property.
There are two deeds offices in the country, one in Harare and the other in Bulawayo. Please note that the Deeds Office does not draft or prepare title deeds. An individual seeking to register ownership rights in a property must approach the Registrar of Deeds with title documents that have already been prepared by that individual’s lawyers or conveyancers. The Deeds Office only offers registration and verification of the ownership rights.
It is also important to note that the Deeds Office has made efforts to digitise some of its processes. Key information including details on statutory fees, types of deeds and bonds and statistics can be found on the Deeds Office website (www.dcip.gov.zw).
Estate Agents and Lawyers
People often buy and sell property with the aid of a real estate agent or lawyer, both of which must be registered to practice in their field. If you are using an estate agent, you can verify his or her registration (and that of his or her agency) by contacting the Estate Agents Council of Zimbabwe (EACZ), which has offices in Harare and Bulawayo. You can also request to see the estate agent’s valid compensation fund certificate for added verification.
Similarly, if you are being assisted by a lawyer, you can confirm that the lawyer is duly registered as a legal practitioner and has a valid practising certificate with the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
Therefore, a buyer must first verify that the title deeds provided by the seller of the property are genuine and that the property in question does exist.