There are various land documents in Lagos relevant to buying a house in Lagos Nigeria. Buying a house in Nigeria is an important activity, therefore, any individual, company or entity that intends to purchase or sell landed properties must understand and be in full knowledge of the types of documents that govern land transactions in Nigeria.

Essentially, land documents in Nigeria are categorized into six recognized title documents in Nigeria and these will be examined below individually.

Certificate of Occupancy- a Certificate of Occupancy or C of O as it is popularly called is an officially recognized and most popular land document evidencing the right of title to land. It is an important land document to a landowner or a purchaser of land. The C of O also usually contains the usage of the land either for residential, commercial or mixed development purposes. It is issued by the State Government to landowners and property buyers as proof of ownership of land and it leases the land under which it is issued to the applicant for a definite period of 99years. Section 5(1) of the Land Use Act states that "it shall be lawful for the Governor in respect of land whether or not in an urban area to grant the statutory right of ownership to any person for all purposes.

Section 9 of the Act goes further to state that it shall be lawful for the Governor when a person is entitled to a statutory right of occupancy; to issue a certificate under his hand in evidence of such right of occupancy. Such a Certificate is called a Certificate of Occupancy.

There are benefits of having a Certificate of Occupancy and some of the benefits are that it grants the bearer of the name in the land document the exclusive ownership of the land; it can be accepted as a form of security or collateral to obtain loans from the bank or other financial institutions and it prevents a claim of multiple ownership.

The Certificate of Occupancy can be obtained from the state government in which the land is situated, and the requirements differ from state to state.

Deed of Assignment- This is an important land document which is a widely acceptable land document that shows that ownership interest in land has been transferred to another. upon the completion of a land transaction between a buyer and a seller of land, a Deed of Assignment is drafted and executed in favor of the Assignee to evidence the transfer of the unexpired residue of the land by the Assignor to the Assignee.

In a land transaction, the land purchaser owes himself the right to demand and be given a Deed of Assignment. Where a Deed of Assignment is executed in favor of the purchaser, it evidences that legal interest on the land has been passed to the purchaser and this is a valid root of title of ownership of the land.

The Deed of Assignment contains the following important contents to be looked out for by a land purchaser;

  • The name, address, and status of the parties to the land transaction;
  • The date in which ownership of the land was transferred to the land purchaser;
  • It must contain the full description of the land, location, survey no (if any).
  • It must contain the clause that shows the breakdown of how the seller of the land gained possession of the land and also helps to trace the history of how the preset seller gained possession of the land. For example, if the land was acquired by a certificate of Occupancy, or it is a family land passed from generation to generation, then such information must be expressly stated in the Deed of Assignment.
  • The consideration, which is the agreed purchase price for which the land is being sold to the purchaser.
  • Other terms and conditions of the land transaction to be agreed on by parties.
  • The capacity of the seller as the beneficial owner of the land must be duly stated.
  • Particulars such as the name, address, occupation, and signature of witnesses to the land transaction must be expressly stated.
  • Finally, it must be duly signed, sealed, and delivered.

Where a Deed of Assignment has been executed on behalf of the purchaser, the purchaser of the land can perfect his newly acquired title to the land by executing the following acts;

  • Obtaining the Governor's consent in the State where the land is situated.
  • Stamping the Deed of Assignment at the Land's Registry.
  • Registering the Deed of Assignment at the Lands Bureau Department of the Land's Registry.

Deed of Lease- a Deed of Lease is another essential land document in Nigeria that creates an interest in land for a fixed period for consideration of rent. In a Deed of Lease, the unexpired residue in the land is not given to the purchaser because the Lessor (Seller) still enjoys a reversionary interest in the land. This simply means that after the expiration of the period in which the owner of the land leases the interest in the land to another, the ownership of the land reverts to the owner.

A Deed of Lease is an important land document, which must be duly signed and delivered to indicate that a commercial land transaction has been executed between a leaseholder to a third party. The most important factor that must exist in a Deed of Lease is the certainty of time. Thus, the lease must have a beginning date and an end date; it cannot be left to the caprice of the parties to the land transaction.

Just like the contents to be evidenced in a Deed of Assignment, a Deed of Lease, also, must contain the following;

  • The commencement date of the lease of the land;
  • The parties to the lease of land transaction, note that the parties must be legal persons capable of being sued and can sue in turn;
  • The full description of the leased land property;
  • The term certain of which the lease will exist. It can be for a duration of 10, 20, 50 years depending on the time agreed by parties to the land transaction;
  • The rent consideration clause of the leased land transaction is paid by the purchaser (Lessee) to the seller (Lessor).
  • Other terms and conditions of the lease transaction to be agreed upon by parties.
  • The capacity of the seller (Lessor) as the beneficial owner of the land must be duly stated.
  • Particulars such as the name, address, occupation, and signature of witnesses to the land transaction must be expressly stated.
  • Finally, it must be duly signed, sealed, and delivered.

Deed of Sub-Lease- It is important to state that a leaseholder in a land lease transaction can sub-lease his or her unexpired lease term to a third party. When such land transaction occurs, a Deed of Sub-Lease is issued to the third party. This simply means that where a landowner leases his land to a purchaser (Lessee) for a fixed term of 20 years, for example, the Lessee can sub-lease the land for a period within the same twenty years to a sub-lease and at the end of the transaction, the reversionary interest in the land goes back to the original owner of the land. Although, it is important to state that land cannot be sub-leased without the consent of the owner of the land.

Deed of Mortgage- this form of land document in Nigeria is used to show that land has been used as a security or collateral for the performance of an obligation. A Deed of Mortgage transfers the legal interest of land to another as a security, but that interest ceases once the obligation has been redeemed. The Mortgagor using his land as security is still the owner of the land, while the land is only held in custody by the Mortgagee.

Survey Plan- A Survey Plan is a land document used to shows the true ownership status of land in Nigeria. The survey plan shows the boundary measurement and coordinates of a parcel of land, giving an exact measurement and full description of the land. The Survey Plan can also help to reveal whether the land to be transacted is under any government acquisition or not.

A survey plan is regulated by the office of the Surveyor-General of the State where the land is located. A property can be sold to a buyer with only the survey plan as the evidence of ownership in the land, where this occurs, the buyer must conduct a due diligence search at the office of the Surveyor-General to authenticate the true ownership of the survey plan before purchasing the land. The buyer owes himself the duty of ensuring that his ownership in the land purchased is perfectly secured by perfecting his title at the appropriate government Land Register in the State where the land is located.

The above-mentioned land documents are a summary of the most recognized and important documents in a property transaction. To buy a house in Nigeria, one needs to understand and know that he or she must acquire a good title to the property purchased. Acquiring a good title in the property goes beyond paying the purchase price for the land.

Finally, the documents listed above are non-exhaustive, as there are still other documents that may apply to a land transaction depending on the circumstances of the property to be purchased. For instance, where the owner of any property to be sold is deceased, it is important to obtain a grant of probate or letter of administration before such property can be transferred.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.