Local taxpayers have forked out more than $11 million over the past decade for a Land Title Registry (LTR) Office that has yet to open its doors to serve the Bermuda public.

For the second consecutive year, Bermuda’s Ombudsman Victoria Pearman has pointed up what she termed an “embarassing and expensive” situation.

“We stated in our Annual Report 2014 that “it was surprising to learn that Bermuda was so far behind much of the developed world in its exclusive reliance on a deed-based property transaction system,” said Ms Pearman.

“The length of time taken for Bermuda to adopt a title-based registration system and bring this office on line frankly is embarrassing and expensive.”

Her 2015 Annual Report was tabled in the House of Assembly in June, after she “called upon the Government to take the remaining necessary steps to commence the operation of this office” in her Annual Report submitted last year.

In her latest report, she noted that “the Government anticipated that the public would be able to start registering land in 2016”, as promised by the One Bermuda Alliance Government in the 2015 Throne Speech.

In that legislative agenda “the Government expressed its intention to table the Land Title Registration Bill in this Parliamentary session. Thereafter we sought updates from the Ministry of Pubic Works and the Ministry of Legal Affairs,” she said. We are now the eighth month of the year.

“The LTR is still not operational and has yet to open its doors to the public. In June 2016 in preparation of this Annual Report, we have been told that “the Ministry of Public Works is still working towards the implementation timeline of 2016. As we said last year, we anticipate that the Government will ensure this is not delayed any further and will proceed with all the necessary steps,” Ms Pearman said.

“In the past year there also has been lost revenues from fees the [LTR] should have generated,” she added.

“The total cost of running and setting up the office from 2015 to 2016 has been over $11 million. If the LTR we’re operational, it is projected that its minimum annual income would be $1.1 million.”

Ironically, she noted that “the LTR was set up between 2005 and 2006, the same time when the Office of the Ombudsman was established”.

“Two experienced Land Title Officers were seconded from the UK Land Title Registry Office to assist with training the Bermudian officers and to help supervise them once the LTR had become operational. However, so much time has passed since the office was set up that the two secondees returned to their position in the UK in 2014 and 2015.

“The LTR currently has six employees, four of whom are Bermudian. The Bermudian staff includes:

• Two Land Title Officers who have undertaken the certificate in Land Title Registration Law and Practice and also were seconded to the UK in 2011 for six months to work in a UK Land Title Registry Office;

• A Mapping Officer who has also undertaken the certificate in Land Title Registration Law and Practice, and who has visited a UK Land Registry Office to learn about its function; and

• A Trainee Legal Officer who has been seconded for two years to work in the UK to gain experience working in a jurisdiction where land registration is practiced and where she is working toward qualifying as an attorney.”

In the 2014 report released last year, Ms Pearman said: “It is a fact of life in Bermuda that we have limited land mass, and what we do have is costly.

“Many of us have witnessed the emotional and financial toll that disputes over land rights take on individuals and families. Not infrequently individuals come to our Office seeking assistance. In some instances our Office can help, such as when there are complaints relating to the administration of planning applications.”

But she said more often than not, the Ombudsman’s Office receives complaints “that are out of our jurisdiction”. Those complaints include “disputes over rights of way, easements and boundaries”. “In these instances we do not have jurisdiction to investigate, given that these disputes are, for the most part, unrelated to a public authority’s administration and are questions for the Courts to determine. We will refer such complaints to the Court to address,” she said.

“Court actions are, however, often costly and protracted – especially when relatively minor land title matters are at stake. Sometimes boundary issues involve a question of inches rather than feet. These factors frequently render a court determination inaccessible to many land owners.

“As a result, we see these disputes being played out in Government departments that do not have the resources or authority to address the underlying disputes. For example, the enforcement team of the Department of Planning is often charged with investigating complaints of works blocking rights of way, when the existence of a right of way or its dimensions may be the real source of conflict,” said Ms Pearman.

“It is for these reasons that the Ombudsman calls on the Government to take the necessary steps remaining to commence the operation of the Land Title Registry, which includes publishing the rules and regulations pursuant to the Land Title Registration Act 2011.

“Our Office has reached out to the Attorney General to discuss this important matter. To date the Ombudsman’s invitation has not been taken up,” she said.

That was last year. And it has been ten years since “Bermuda actually set up a Land Title Registry Office (“LTRO”) in 2006″. “This included the secondment of experts from the England and Wales’ Land Title Registry, and in 2007 producing a public report and conducting public consultation. For reasons not entirely clear the Government has NOT launched Bermuda’s land title registration regime.

Said Ms Pearman: “It was surprising to learn that Bermuda was so far behind much of the developed world in its exclusive reliance on a deed-based property transaction system. The length of time taken for Bermuda to adapt a title-based registration system and bring this office on line frankly is embarassing and expensive. There also has been lost revenues from fees the LTRO could have generated.

“We understand that the Government anticipates that, with amendments to the Land Title Registration Act and the required rules and regulations finalised, the public will be able to start registering land in 2016. This will be an important step in Bermuda’s administration of land rights. We anticipate that the Government will ensure this is not delayed any further and will proceed with all necessary steps.”

One year on, this office has yet to open it’s doors. And BermudaReal.com, in the interest of Bermuda’s taxpaying public, is actively trying to find out why since it’s on your dime. And we’ll keep you posted.

By Ceola Wilson

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