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What information do I need to establish ownership of a land?

BY: Mirror Lawyer

Dear Mirror Lawyer, My father bought a plot of land in a suburb of Accra over 50 years ago. This land was given to me upon his death in his Will.

The land was bare, with the exception of pillars marking the boundaries of the land. To my dismay, some people have started digging a foundation with the aim of building on the plot of land. I immediately informed them that I am the owner of the land.

They, however, told me that they had bought the land from the owners. I have decided to initiate a court action for declaration of title to the land. Please advise me on the kind of information I need to produce to establish my ownership of the land.

Adjoa Safo, Oyarifa

Dear Adjoa Safo, In an action for declaration of title to land, the burden of proof lies on the Plaintiff to establish his or her title. The Supreme Court has stated in the case of Takoradi Flour Mills v Samir Faris [2005-2006] SCGLR 882 that a Plaintiff must succeed on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the Defendant’s case.

What this means is that a person bringing an action in court for the declaration of title to land must provide evidence to persuade the court that he or she is in fact entitled to that relief, not merely relying on the fact the Defendant is not entitled to the land.

In the recent case of Yehans International Ltd v Martey Tsuru Family & Anor [2019-2020] 1 SCLRG 838, the court stated that in order to succeed in an action for declaration of title to land, the Plaintiff must prove three elements namely; root of title, mode of acquisition and various acts of possession over the land.

The root of title traces the history of the ownership of the land before the Plaintiff acquired it whereas the mode of acquisition shows how the Plaintiff acquired the land that is whether by conveyance of sale, leasehold or even by deed of gift.

Acts of possession on the land vary and include erecting corner pillars, fence wall, foundation, building and other recent acts of showing you have control over the land.

It is also important to note that in an action for declaration of title to land, the Plaintiff must also prove the boundaries of the land in dispute. In the case of Agyei Osae & Others v Adjeifio & Others [2007-2008] SCGLR 499, the court emphasised that in order for the Plaintiff to succeed, the Plaintiff must establish that the land being claimed is the same land being occupied by the Defendants. Although producing a survey plan provides a description of the land in dispute, in the case of Bedu v Agbi [1972] 2 GLR 238 CA, it was noted that failure of the Plaintiffs to call their boundary owners meant that they had not discharged the burden of proof on them.

Therefore, since you acquired your title from your late father, you would be expected to show how he came to acquire his title and the registered title to the land.

Other pieces of evidence required are your boundaries to the land, your boundary owners (if any), and your acts of possession on the land including the number of years you have been in undisturbed possession.