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TT Real Estate Laws
Legal Advice
It is advisable to hire a lawyer although this incur additional expense. An experienced real estate lawyer can help you evaluate offers (those with a variety of conditions), protect your interests throughout the entire transaction, act as an escrow agent to hold the down payment, evaluate complex mortgages and/or leases with options to buy, review contracts and handle your home's closing process. They can also tell you what things, by law, you must disclose to buyers prior to a sale and can also help you avoid inadvertently discriminating against any potential buyers.

Land Title Systems
In Trinidad & Tobago there exists two systems of land law. One commonly referred to as the "Old Law" system and the other a system of registered land titles under the Real Property Ordinance (R.P.O.), Chapter 27 No. 11 of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

The R.P.O. system of conveyancing is based on the well known Torrens System (named after Sir Robert Torrens) which sought to abolish the necessity for Title Searches by providing that for every parcel of land under the system there should be a Certificate of Title. All dealings e.g. transfers; mortgages; leases or other encumbrances with respect to the particular piece or parcel of R.P.O. land must be recorded on the Certificate of Title. The title of a vendor therefore can easily be ascertained by looking at his Certificate of Title. 

Under the R.P.O. system title is guaranteed by the State, and if someone is fraudulently deprived of his interest in R.P.O. land he can claim compensation under a land assurance fund.

Notwithstanding the particular advantages of the R.P.O. system and despite the fact that there is provision for lands under the Old Law system to be brought under the R.P.O. system most land in Trinidad and Tobago is still held under the Old Law system. This system is based primarily on English Common Law and has been modified from time to time by local statutes.
 

Estates in Land
An estate in land is a measure of the duration of the quantity of ownership or interest in land. An estate may be Freehold or Leasehold.
A Freehold Estate is an absolute interest in land capable of perpetual existence whereas a Leasehold interest is a term of years arising where property has been demised to a person for a certain number of years.

In transferring one's estate in land the form of document used will vary according to whether it is freehold or leasehold and also whether it is Old Law or R.P.O. 

A freehold estate is transferred by a Deed of Conveyance (Old Law) and in the case of R.P.O. by a Memorandum of Transfer. A leasehold interest is transferred by a Deed of Assignment (Old Law) and in the case of the R.P.O. by a Memorandum of Transfer.

Although a leasehold interest is not of unlimited duration as is in the case of a freehold estate, it is not uncommon to find leasehold interests for periods such as 199 years or even 999 years.
 

Agreement for Sale
Although there is no requirement for parties to enter into a formal agreement for the sale and purchase of land, it is advisable to do so.

To be enforceable an agreement for sale must be in writing and signed by all parties. There is no prescribed form but the agreement must include a description of the property; the parties (i.e. the vendor and purchaser) must be identified and the purchase price or consideration must be stated.

Apart from these three essential elements the agreement will usually provide for a 10 % deposit to be paid by the Purchaser and for completion within 90 days. The terms of the agreement however are entirely within the control of the parties.
 

Title Searches
Once the agreement for sale has been signed the Purchaser's Attorney-at-Law must investigate the title to the property to ensure that the Vendor possesses a good marketable title. In order to ensure good title the Purchaser's attorney or his Title Clerk must undertake a search at the Registry of Deeds at the Registrar General's Department where all original deeds are lodged. An abstract of title will be prepared which consists of a list of all documents or events affecting the land and generally sets out the history of ownership of the land for the past twenty (20) years. The abstract of title will commence with what is called a root of title. The root of title must be at least twenty (20) years old. From the root of title to the present all documents found must form an unbroken chain ending in the vendor. All mortgages found in the chain must have corresponding releases.

In many cases a vendor may enter into an agreement to sell land which is still subject to a mortgage. In such a case the vendor must provide a copy of the release of the mortgage executed in escrow by the Lender together with a statement from the Lender as to the amount required to effect the release as well as a note of the its Attorney's fees for preparing the release. Once these things are presented the Purchaser's Attorney may withhold from the balance of the purchase price an amount required to liquidate the mortgage and settle the fees of the Attorney for the Lender.

Under the R.P.O. system title searches are much easier. It involves an examination of the endorsements made on the Certificate of Title. An investigation of these endorsements will quickly confirm who is the present owner of the land and whether there are any mortgages or other encumbrances affecting the land.

Apart from title searches the Purchaser's Attorney must ensure that there are no judgments registered against the vendor or any previous owner of the property for the past twelve (12) years. A judgment registered against a vendor will entitle the judgment creditor (the person who obtained the judgment) to apply to the Court for an order to sell the vendor's property to satisfy the judgment. This can be done even after the property has been transferred to a third party i.e. the Purchaser.

Title searches usually take between two to three weeks to be completed.
 

Transfer of Real Estate
In most cases the Purchaser's Attorney is responsible for preparing the relevant instrument of transfer. In other cases, such as where the Purchaser is taking a new lease of a property, the vendor's Attorney will prepare the instrument i.e. the Lease. In both instances however the Purchaser will bear the costs.

Once the title to the property is in order the relevant transfer document may be completed. Upon closing the vendor must provide the following documents:

  • Lands and Building Taxes receipt or House Rates receipts showing that the payment was made for the current year and that it was assessed in the name of the vendor;
  • Water and Sewerage Rates receipt for the current period;
  • Water and Sewerage Clearance Certificate confirming that there are no outstanding rates affecting the property;
  • Town and Country Planning Approval and a Completion Certificate in the case of recently built houses, or a sub-division approval in the case of recently subdivided lands;
  • Releases for all outstanding mortgages duly executed in escrow together with a statement showing the amount required to liquidate the mortgage and a note of the Attorney's fee for the preparation of the Release.


In the case of Leasehold Properties and Condominium/Townhouse Schemes the following additional documents may be required:

  • Lease rent receipt;
  • Lessor's consent to the assignment where necessary;
  • Current maintenance charges receipt where applicable;
  • Share Certificate in the name of the vendor evidencing the vendor's share(s) in the property management company;
  • Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of the Management Company;
  • Duly executed Share Transfer.
Stamp Duty on Instruments
After the transfer instruments have been signed the instruments must be submitted to the Board of Inland Revenue for stamping. Stamp Duty is a duty levied and paid to the State upon and in respect of several instruments including instruments transferring interests in real estate.

Where there is a dwelling house upon the land transferred the Stamp Duty payable is as follows:

Residential Transfers

  • up to and including TT$350,000.00: exempt
  •  from TT$350,001.00 to TT$450,000.00: 5%
  • from TT$450,001.00 to TT$550,000.00: 7.5%
  • over TT$550,000.00: 10%


For non-residential transfers i.e. commercial properties or where the property consists of land alone the Stamp Duty payable is as follows:

Non Residential Transfers

  • not exceeding TT$300,000.00: 2%
  • from TT$300,000.00 to TT$400,000.00: 5%
  • above TT$400,000.00: 7%


The above rates for non-residential transfers are to be applied to the total consideration. For example if the consideration is $350,000.00 the stamp duty payable will be 5% of $350,000.00 = $17,500.00.

Once the appropriate stamp duty is tendered to the Board of Inland Revenue the Board will certify payment by an embossed stamp on the first page of the instrument. All instruments must be stamped within two months of their signing; in default a penalty will be imposed for late stamping.
 

Registration
It is only after stamping that the instruments may be registered. Under the Old Law System registration is not compulsory. A purchaser can show good title by producing his original executed deed. However it is advisable not only to have one's deed registered but also to have it registered expeditiously. Every deed that is registered has priority over all other deeds or conveyances of the same property and over all judgment creditors. It is provided by law that an unregistered deed shall be deemed to be fraudulent and void as against any other purchaser for value or mortgagee without notice of the unregistered deed. As a result a subsequent disposition of the same property once registered will rank in priority to the unregistered disposition even though the latter may be first in time.

Under the R.P.O. system the situation is quite different. Registration is mandatory. The Real Property Ordinance provides that no instrument shall be effective to pass any estate or interest in lands until registered under the Ordinance.

Once the instrument has been registered the purchaser's Attorney will usually prepare a Return of Ownership Form which the Purchaser must take to the Warden's Office or the District Revenue Office for the particular area in which the land is situated to have their records updated. The property will thereafter be assessed for Lands and Buildings Taxes in the name of the Purchaser.
 

Foreigners
The Foreign Investment Act 1990 permits foreign investors (i.e. an individual who is neither a citizen of a Caricom country or a resident of Trinidad and Tobago) to acquire up to one (1) acre of land for residential purposes and up to five (5) acres for commercial purposes. Acquisitions in excess of those amounts can only be made if a licence from the President is obtained.

In cases where no licence is necessary the Act provides that the purchase consideration must be paid in an internationally traded currency through a person authorised by law as a dealer in that currency (e.g. local banks). Further the foreigner and his Attorney must deliver to the Minister of Finance a Notice specifying the name and address and nationality of the investor, the date and registration particulars of the instrument by which he became owner and evidence that the purchase price was in fact paid in an internationally traded currency.

Note: The above information is not provided by way of legal advice and any person interested in purchasing or otherwise dealing with real property should contact an attorney-at-law for advice in relation to the specific matter or transaction.

When purchasing a property, one should be fully aware of all the hidden costs which WILL arise from the transaction.
 

Stamp Duties
Stamp duties are government taxes that are payable on registering property conveyance documents. This means that any time a property changes ownership, a stamp duty must be paid.

Lands and Commercial Properties

  • Under $350,000  2%
  • $350,001 to $450,000  5%
  • Over $450,000  7%


Residential Properties

  • $0 to $350,000  Nil
  • $350,001 to $450,000  5% on every dollar in excess of $350,001
  • $450,001 to $550,000  7.5% on every dollar in excess of $450,001
  • $550,001 and above  10% on every dollar in excess of $550,001

Legal Fees
  • Up to $100,000  $1,500 minimum
  • $100,001 to $500,000  (x .75%) $4,500
  • exceeding $500,000  (x .5%)

Valuation Costs

Minimum cost of 1/4 of 1% (0.25%) of the Valuated Price