After years of promises and millions of taxpayer dollars spent to run an office that has yet to open, Bermuda’s Ombudsman, Victoria Pearman said she was “pleased” to hear that the Land Title Registry is scheduled to open to the public next month.

This after Public Works Minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch told MPs on Friday, that the office, will finally be open to the public on July 2, 2018.

When contacted by Bermuda Real for her reaction, Ms Pearman said: “In the Ombudsman’s past three Annual Reports I highlighted my continued concerns over the slow progress of fully opening the Land Title Registry.

“In my Annual Report  2017 which will be tabled in the House of Assembly this month, I wrote I am encouraged by the Government’s renewed call to progress this long outstanding matter.

“In previous reports I have highlighted taxpayers have paid over one million dollars annually for years to fund  this office, which was not open to them. It is long overdue they enjoy the benefit of registering their properties with a title- based registry which will significantly improve the law of property in Bermuda,” she added. 

The new land ownership register will crack down on land grabbers who cheat vulnerable owners out of their property.

Colonel Burch said the opening will mark the end of a “sorry and deplorable” history of real estate agents and lawyers swindling clients.

“This system will provide for the guarantee of legal ownership of land and the simplification of conveyancing transactions,” he said.

The register will become “the definitive record of title” and any further transactions will be carried out quickly and at a low cost.

“Further, once a title is registered, title to that land is guaranteed, and cannot be lost or stolen.”

He also noted that many Bermudians were cheated by “unscrupulous professionals, and even at times by family members” over the years.

Minister of Public Works Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch

Land owners who opt to register their deeds will obtain absolute title.

Property owners will be able to secure the “the land that they worked so hard to obtain, their piece of the rock that they want their children and grandchildren to inherit and maintain after they are gone, their legacy, will for ever be safe”.

“It is unconscionable to this Government that landowners would have to pay lawyers’ fees for this service, so we will amend the Act to remove the requirement for a lawyer to examine the deeds,” said Colonel Burch.

Instead, staff at Government’s Land Title Registration Office will carry out searches and grant registered titles.

The change will complete the move from a deeds-based registration system that dated back to 1999.

You will recall that under-handed practices in Bermuda’s real estate market sparked a heated debate in the Lower House in 2014, when the Progressive Labour Party was in Opposition.

A Commission of Inquiry was approved by Parliament, but it was never authorised by the Governor.

  • Full Ministerial Statement by Public Works Minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch

It is with considerable pride that I advise this Honorable House that the long-awaited implementation date of the Land Title Registration Act 2011 will be July 2, 2018. 

Work on this initiative commenced in 1999 when the then Government first took steps to recognize that much relief would be afforded members of our community by the implementation of a parcel-based land registration system to replace the deeds-based property transaction system currently in place. The then PLP Government perceived significant benefits accruing to the public as a result of the implementation of a Land Title Registry. This system will provide for the guarantee of legal ownership of land and the simplification of conveyancing transactions.
Currently, property transactions can take months to complete and at significant expense. Once a parcel of land is registered, the register will become the definitive record of title, and subsequent transactions can be carried out in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost.  Further, once a title is registered, title to that land is guaranteed and cannot be lost or stolen.
You will no doubt be aware of the long and sad history that surrounds the exchange of certain lands in this country. Many of our senior citizens have experienced the injustice of their family land being taken by what some might describe as unscrupulous professionals, and even at times by family members.
Many can tell the tale of land being swindled – many still feel the pain of that theft. This Act is intended to bring an end to this sorry and deplorable practice. It has been a long road from 1999 to today, and if you permit, I would like to share with this House a brief history of the journey to this place.
In 2005 the Government approved the appointment of a project manager and the implementation of Land Title Registration. Between 2006 and 2007, further progress was made, including the staffing of a Land Title Registration Office and the procurement of a Land Title Registration information system.
This system was tested, using the Government estate where all of the Government’s land holdings were entered onto the Register. At the same time, a policy paper was drafted and consultation held with stakeholders. This led to the Land Title Registration Act 2011 which passed successfully through both Houses of the Legislature and received Royal Assent in December 2011. In 2012, secondary legislation in the form of the Land Registration Rules was drafted, the professional stakeholders were advised how the new system would work in practice. Full
implementation of the Land Title Registration Act was scheduled to come into force in early 2013. 
I don’t need to remind you that in December 2012 there was a General Election, which led to a change of Government. 
For the next five years Land Title Registration stalled as the then Government during this period decided that the Land Title Registry and the Deeds Registry should be merged, and amendments to the legislation suggested by some conveyancing Attorneys were considered. Some of these amendments were the subject of the Land Title Registration Amendment Act 2017.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge and agree with successive reports of the Ombudsman for Bermuda on this subject and I specifically quote an excerpt from the 2016 report.
And I quote (from Bermuda Real): “For reasons not entirely clear the Government has not launched Bermuda’s land title registration regime. 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 adopt a title-based registration system and bring this office on line frankly is embarrassing 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.”  End quote. 
Clearly that did not happen but presently under the legislation voluntary registration by members of the public is permitted,  providing the deeds have been first checked by an attorney who will certify there is a good route of title. The attorney will also carry out additional searches to ensure that there are no judgments, private mortgage, or court orders concerning a divorce attached to the title before it is presented to the land registry.
The ultimate goal is to give land owners who wish to voluntarily register their deeds absolute title, which also gives them the cover of the indemnity.
It is unconscionable to this government that land owners would have to pay lawyers’ fees for this service so we will amend the Act to remove the requirement for a lawyer to examine the deeds for a voluntary registration and instead suitably qualified members of the LTRO will examine the title, carry out the relevant searches and grant an absolute registered title to the land. Of course there are various fees associated with this service dependent upon the type of service requested (a copy of those fees is attached to this statement).
We anticipate great interest from members of the public to have their properties registered so in the intial stages following the launch – voluntary registration will be by appointment only – so that the office can adequately manage the work load and members of the public are not frustrated by any teething pains.
Over the year’s significant stakeholder consultation has taken place, including the Bar Association, surveyors, the Bank Association, realtors, and the general public. In particular, the Land Title Registry has developed an excellent working relationship with the local banks and anticipates that upon implementation of the Act, the banks will be a major source of data and revenue for the registration of private land. The staff of the Land Title Registration Office will, between now and July 2nd, once again reach out to the professions and the public with information and training to facilitate the smooth transition from Deeds based conveyancing to electronic title registration.
A full media campaign will follow this statement over the weeks ahead leading up to July 2nd – so that those who have waited so long for that day will know firsthand the process to follow in order to get their properties registered. 
As you will appreciate the Land Title Officer’s position is a very specialized field that understandably suffers from a lack of qualified Bermudians. Over the years staffing generally has been a real challenge with various Bermudians electing to secure employment elsewhere. To meet the July 2nd operational deadline – we have sought qualified and trained staff globally recently recruiting 4 Land Title Officers one from the UK who started in April on a six month secondment and three from Jamaica, arriving tomorrow (Saturday, June 16, 2018), on a one year contract.
Concurrently, we are in discussions with a not yet fully qualified Bermudian to assume the role as a trainee Land Title Officer with the view to ultimately filling a Land Title Officer post and looking to employ a Bermudian to undertake the position as Office Manager. Once operational the Registrar and her staff will participate in career fairs and school visits to encourage other young Bermudians to consider a career in this area.
From July 2, 2018 Bermudians will finally be able to register their land on the Land Title Register, and when they do so, their real estate will be secure. The land that they worked so hard to obtain, their ‘piece of the rock’ that they want their children and grandchildren to inherit and maintain after they are gone, their legacy, will forever be safe.
No one will be able to take it from them saying ‘I have the Deeds’.
We could not have arrived at this place without the work of the staff of the Land Title Office over many years – ably led by Land Registrar, Mrs Debbie Reid – who in fact has been with the office since its inception – first as Legal Officer and now as Land Registrar. The commitment and dedication of Mrs Reid and her staff is so significant that I wanted them present in this House today to personally witness this announcement and to receive our thanks on behalf of the Government and people of Bermuda for the outstanding job they have done.
The days of Deeds are over.
The age of a modern, efficient, safe and secure way of recording ownership of land and rights in land is upon us, and it starts on July 2nd.