In Zimbabwe and many other countries, title deeds offer the greatest form of security over land. Ordinarily, the rights of a holder of valid title deeds over land is considered to hold superior rights to all other rights that other persons may claim to have over the same property.

With the increase in demand for residential land in Zimbabwe, threats to title have existed and many innocent people have fallen victim of land fraudsters who fraudulently sale land to which they have no title. Cases of persons who move around urban towns identifying underdeveloped land, whose registered owners would usually not be around with some in the Diaspora, have increased in recent years. These persons would proceed to make adverts for such properties in the local newspapers to fleece unsuspecting victims. In some instances, these fraudsters would go in as far as securing fake title deeds and fraudulent Powers of Attorney to enable them to sale the property to innocent victims. These cases have not escaped the writer's desk as he has dealt with a number, assisting both the victims and the rightful title holders.

The involvement of the Deeds Registries Office is important in any transaction involving the sale of land with registered title. It is this office which, among other duties, is responsible for securing and keeping records on all transactions involving registered land title. This therefore means that, before concluding a sale agreement relating to land with registered title, the buyer or with the assistance of Legal Practitioners of choice, can approach the Deeds Registries Office to verify the title to the property. In addition to this step, ascertaining the actual identity of the seller is paramount and the use of social media and the internet must be utilised as the reliance on mere Identity cards has proved to fail in most instances. These steps are critical in assisting any potential purchaser to know who actually owns the property and avoid being defrauded.

As for the true holders of title over land who, in most instances, would have been shocked to come across adverts of the sale of their land in local newspapers or any other advertising medias, additional safeguards on the tile can also be employed to ensure that their properties are not sold and transferred without their knowledge. This additional protection comes in the form of a caveat which, upon the production of a court order, the Registrar of Deeds can place on the title deeds. It should however be noted that, as an interim measure, the Registrar of Deeds can place what is termed an XN caveat whilst a court order for the caveat is being sought.

A caveat acts as an injunction to the Registrar of Deeds restraining the registration of any dealing affecting the ownership of the land without notifying the Caveator. A caveat therefore has the effect of prohibiting the Registrar of Deeds from entering in the Register any change of proprietorship or memorandum of transfer or any dealing presented for registration subsequent to the date on which the caveat was lodged unless the Caveator consents thereto

A critical question may be asked on the significance of a caveat when, in the normal course of things, a property with registered title must not be sold or dealt with in any way without the consent of the rightful title holder. The answer lies in the additional security that can be afforded by a caveat. The rightful owner of the property can place a directive that, in any dealings involving the property, notification must be given to a certain number of people or specific legal practitioners. Thus even if a fraudster succeeds in impersonating the rightful owner and acquire all the relevant documents to effect the transfer, the notification requirement would defeat the final transfer.

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.