Ambergris Caye is Belize’s premiere destination and real estate is a hot commodity. With foreign investors looking to us as a potential spot to either retire and or invest, it can become an ideal opportunity for property fraud, as reported in The San Pedro Sun Volume 21 Issue 37, dated September 23rd.

Preceding that article, The San Pedro Sun was contacted by Mr. Claudio Azueta, Vice President of the Association of Real Estate Brokers of Belize (AREBB), who gave us some insight as to how the incident reported on could happen and what can be done to avert it.

He explained that there are two systems of land ownership in Belize: (1) The system of common law and (2) the system of land registration. The system of common law is the system which involves ownership by means of a Deed of Conveyance (Indenture, Gift, Vesting Assent), a Minister’s Fiat (Grant) or a Transfer Certificate of Title, all of which are registered at the Land Titles Unit of the Ministry of Natural Resources in Belmopan.

The system of land registration is a new form of land ownership established by the Government of Belize in 1977 via The Registered Land Act and ownership is via a Land Certificate issued/recorded at the Lands Registry in Belmopan. Prior to 1977, all private land was owned by means of the Land Titles Unit (General Registry) but after the establishment of the Registered Land Act, the

Government of Belize started declaring different areas under the Registered Land Act. This meant that once properties fell under a registered area, the owner (s) had to carry out a process called First Registration whereby the old title was exchanged for a Land Certificate. The process requires publication in the Government gazette and in the newspapers for Deeds of Conveyance, Deeds of Gift, Minister’s Fiat (Grant) but not for Transfer Certificates of Title.

On Ambergris Caye, the first registered area was established in 1990 and it included the area from the San Pedro River to the southern end of the island. This meant that since 1990 all property owners should have undergone the process of First Registration and since then no legal transactions pertaining to land should have been allowed in the old system (Land Titles Unit) only at the Lands Registry. The registration area on Ambergris Caye was extended further north for about 6 miles up to the Mexico Rocks area on December 31, 2003 and up to the southern boundary of the Bacalar Chico Reserve on September 28, 2010.

Property owners in these areas must carry out First Registration of their properties and if they have not done so, need to initiate the process immediately. For properties owned via a Transfer Certificate of Title, the process is free and does not require publication. For other forms of title, an Abstract of Title or Title investigation must be carried out in order to apply for First Registration and a publication fee of $5 is charged.

At the Lands Registry, any property for which First Registration HAS NOT been carried out is shown as “Owner Unknown”. This is where the problem begins because an individual can apply for a lease on that specific property and if Government does not do its proper due diligence and wrongfully assumes that the property is National property, then a Lease issued on that property and subsequently, after payment of a purchase price, title issued to that individual despite the fact that the Government never owned the land in the first place.

For any individual in this position whose land has been erroneously sold by the Government to someone else, that individual needs to apply for First Registration and upon submission of evidence of good title in the name of the correct owner, the Registrar of Lands is obligated to amend the register to reflect the correct owner’s name.

For property owners to avoid finding themselves in this position, please make sure that you carry out the process of First Registration immediately. You can seek the assistance of a qualified real estate professional member of the Association of Real Estate Brokers of Belize.

One unfortunate result of this problem of erroneous sale of private land by Government is that Government is obligated by law to compensate his buyer (the party who applied for a lease and subsequently purchased the land from the Government) at current market values. This in itself may be highly unfair and unjust as in many instances, the applicant knows well that the land is privately owned and still applies for it. But that is another issue far more controversial.

The San Pedro Sun takes this opportunity to offer thanks to Mr. Azueta for taking the time to share this very vital information with us and hopes that our readers find this both informative and helpful.

San Pedro Sun