Acquiring Real Estate in Jamaica

Acquiring real estate in Jamaica can be complex but more often than not, is reasonably straightforward.  

Land is sold “as is” in Jamaica and if a Registered Title is available, then there is usually no complexity.   With hundreds of real estate agents and private sales available in Jamaica, finding your dream property could be just around the corner.

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Acquiring real Estate in Jamaica

Complications can occur in the case of unregistered land. What I have learned in dealing with land acquisition is that, while in urban areas land ownership is clearly defined with a registered title, it is not necessarily so in rural areas.  

In rural Jamaica the majority of land ownership is unregistered having simply been passed down from generation to generation as is.  The introduction of the 1948 Registration of Titles Act made it a requirement for all parcels of land to be registered under the Act.   Portland and St Elizabeth has the highest volume of unregistered lands.

The Common Law Title – Indenture/Facility Title

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The Common Law Title in Jamaica  (an Indenture document) sets out the names of parties involved and conditions of sale. 

The Facility Title is another form of land ownership usually issued by a Cooperative Bank to the owner against a small loan or lien over the unregistered  land. 

Neither of these Titles is accepted by high street banks as security against such lands. 

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Government fees in the form of stamp duty and transfer tax are payable to the Stamp Commissioner at the Tax Administration Department and the stamped document is kept by purchaser as the proof of ownership.  

The Registered Title - Registration of Titles Act of 1948

The Registered Title is recognised as proof of the undisputed ownership of the land and is readily accepted by all high street banks and others as security for loans etc.  It is also beneficial to prove ownership if there are disputes over the land by a third party. 

It is now normal practice that whenever an Indenture/Facility document is the proof of ownership of lands to be transferred, an application to the Registrar of Titles for first registration is required. 

Though it can be a lengthy process, it formalises the ownership of land in accordance with the Registration of Titles Act and results in the purchaser being issued with a Certificate of Title under the Act. 

When purchasing real estate in Jamaica one of the first questions to ask is whether a registered title is available.  Transfer by registered title is straightforward and completion can be expected within  3 months for the most part.  

Acquiring Real Estate in Jamaica - Points to Note

If no documentation at all is available to prove ownership, while it is not impossible to do, it might be better to find one that does and avoid the complications that will inevitably follow.  

A TRN (tax registration number) is required by all people wishing to do business in Jamaica.  Application for a TRN can be made while on visit to Jamaica at any Tax Office or directly on line. 

A clear title is one that has no liens affecting it such as, a mortgage, court order or a caveat.  For example a caveat may have been placed on the title relating to an unresolved action which involves the land.  

National Land Agency Jamaica (NLA)

The government of Jamaica has been working on improved ways to enable and encourage landowners to more easily obtain their registered titles which has resulted in an increase in registered land ownership throughout the Island.   

 National Land Agency  In April 2019 it was reported by the Land Survey Department that 40% of all parcels of land in Jamaica are unregistered. 

Acquiring Real Estate in Jamaica - Registration costs

From April 2019 government transfer tax on land was reduced to 2% of value, with a standard rate of Stamp duty of J$5000. Processing fees vary between 3% to 5%.  If the property is being sold via an estate agent, additional fees will apply.

It is worth bearing in mind when looking at land in Jamaica, that a registered title may not always be readily available.  

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