Land titles 

What information is held on the certificate of title?

A certificate of title describes a residential section. If you are thinking of putting an offer on a property, it is a good idea to look at the certificate of title and have a lawyer look at it too.

On the certificate of title (or “land title”) you can see:

  • who owns the property;
  • what type of title it is (eg freehold, leasehold, cross lease, unit title);  
  • the names of  previous owners;
  • if there are any rights and restrictions relating to the title, such as easements, covenants, caveats.

You can read more about certificates of title on the Real Estate Authority’s Settled website.

A certificate of title is different to a Land Information Memorandum (LIM), which is a report that tells you what the local council knows about a property.

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What are easements, covenants and caveats in a land title?

An easement gives someone who is not the owner, the right to use part of the property for a specific purpose eg to access their own property.

A covenant is an agreement listed on the land title that you enter into when you purchase the property. It can restrict what you can do on the property, or allow you to do something on the property (eg whether you can cut down trees or change the style or colour of the house or outside areas).

A caveat is a notice that someone else claims an interest in the land. This can prevent the owner from selling the property until the claim is resolved.

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Is it possible to remove an easement from a land title?

It may be possible, for example if it was a condition of the subdivision and the property owners affected by it are in agreement. You will probably need a lawyer to advise you on this, and to make the change where it is possible.

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How do I find out who owns a particular property?

Information about who owns a property is on the Certificate of Title. If the house is up for sale, the real estate agent should have a copy of the title.

Otherwise you can usually find out by requesting a copy of the Certificate of Title from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) (also known as doing a title search). It costs around $15 and takes around 2 business days.

1. Before you start you will need to find the property’s legal description. You can: 

  • check a rates demand notice for rating valuation notice for the property or
  • visit the local council website and use its property search facility, or 
  • visit a public library and view a copy of the “rating roll”.

The legal description will look like this – LOT 1 DP 12345 or, for older properties, like this - 'Section 1019 - 1022 Town of Christchurch'.

2. Use the legal description to order a copy of the title - LINZ calls this the “current computer register”.

Complete an order form online or download a form (from the LINZ website) and send the completed form to the address noted on the form.

Note that most Māori land records are held by the Māori Land Court.

More information about how to obtain a copy of a land record is on this LINZ factsheet.

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The certificate of title still has my deceased husband’s name as the owner. How do I get the title transferred to my name?

If you have inherited real estate you need to get the title transferred to your own name.
You can do this yourself - it’s known as making a manual lodgement because you won’t be able to do it online unless you are a lawyer or conveyancer.

The process can be complicated, so Land Information New Zealand recommends that you have a lawyer do the transfer for you - or at least have a lawyer check your lodgement forms before you deliver them. The fee for the lodgement is around $200.

You can follow a similar process if you wish to add another name (e.g. a family member) to your certificate of title.

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What do the terms “Tenants in common” and “Joint tenancy” mean?

These are types of home ownership that can apply when two or more individuals buy a house together. If you buy a property in this way, you’ll need to choose which of these types of ownership should apply.

Joint tenancy
With joint tenancy, two or more people buy a property and the owners do not have divided shares in the house. For example, if a husband and wife buy a house, then neither spouse owns a share of the house. The house is owned jointly by the couple. This is common with married couples.

The property will not become part of either owner’s estate. This means that if one of the joint tenants dies then the other joint tenant automatically becomes the owner of the whole property, regardless of what the deceased spouse has put in their will. Neither of the joint tenants can mortgage the house without the other joint tenant’s agreement.

If one joint tenant becomes bankrupt, then the joint tenancy is automatically “severed” (it ends). Joint tenancy can also be terminated if all joint tenants agree to it, or they can agree to switch to tenancy in common.

Tenants in common
With tenants in common, each joint owner has a share of the property. The shares can be equal or unequal. This is more common when the joint owners are friends, business associates, family members or parties in a new relationship.

Any of the owners can transfer or mortgage their share of the house without the other joint owners’ agreement. Each owner can specify in their will who will receive their share of the property when they die. If you have this type of home ownership it is more important for you to have an up-to-date will.

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What does it mean if a house has a cross lease title?

In a freehold ownership, you own the land and any buildings on it. With cross lease ownership, two or more people own the land jointly as tenants in common. Each joint owner leases their house or apartment from all of the tenants in common. The joint owners share the use of, and maintenance of, the common property. Examples of common property are driveways, lawns, and fences.

You will need to check the Memorandum of Lease to find out whether all of the properties on the cross leased land are covered by one insurance policy, or whether you need to organise your own insurance for your property.

The Memorandum of Lease specifies what the joint owners’ rights and obligations are. For example it may state that you have to insure your property; that if the property is damaged you must restore it to the original design and size; and you may have to repair damage to a certain standard.

You’ll usually need to get agreement from the other owners if you want to make alterations to your house.

If the lease includes covenants then you have to obey them.

More information about cross lease ownership is on the Real Estate Authority’s Settled website.

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What does it mean if a house is on leasehold land?

Leasehold land is land which is leased to the owner of the house i.e. the owner of the house does not own the land the house is on. This is why a house built on leasehold land is generally much cheaper than a similar type of house on freehold land (where you own the land and any buildings on it).

As the house owner you have to pay annual rent on the land (this is called “ground rent” or “lease fee”. The rent amount is based on the land value and is normally fixed for a specified number of years. This guarantees you the right to live there for a specified number of years. When the lease ends you need to ensure the land and buildings are in the same condition as they were at the start of the lease.

If you’re thinking of buying a house on leasehold land, make sure that you’ll be able to get the finance you need. Some banks are not willing to lend as much money as they would for a house on freehold land.

You should also find out how the lease is for. If the land value has risen substantially since the last ground rent review it can lead to a substantial increase in the ground rent.

It is a good idea to have a lawyer look at the lease agreement before you sign.

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What is a strata title?

This is another name for a unit title. If you have a unit title home, you own the “unit” (e.g. apartment plus any accompanying courtyard or parking space) and also own a share of common property (such as the driveway or communal gardens). All of the unit owners are members of the body corporate, which is responsible for managing the common property and the unit title development as a whole.

You can read all about what it means to own a unit title home on our Body corporate page.

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What do I need to know about buying a company share apartment?

With company share apartments, the land and the building are owned by a company. To buy a company share apartment you have to buy shares in the company. When you buy the shares you also have to sign an “occupation right agreement” (also known as “licence to occupy”).

This licence sets out:

  • your the right to live in the apartment and use the common areas;
  • your obligations (eg to pay levies and to maintain the apartment) and those of the company;
  • any restrictions you have regarding alterations to the apartments, subletting or pets.

All of the apartment owners are shareholders in the company, and some of them are also company directors. As with any company, it will have a constitution which states the rights and obligations of the shareholders.

If you want to buy a company share apartment, you will probably need the consent of the company directors. You may not be able to borrow as much from the bank to buy a company share apartment, compared to a standalone house or a unit title apartment. However, this does mean that company share apartments are often cheaper than unit title apartments.

If you buy a company share apartment you will have to follow the rules set out in the constitution – this can include rules about whether you can keep pets in the apartment or rent it out.

You are likely to have to contribute towards maintenance, building insurance and other expenses to the company, so make sure you find out what all of the costs are. Unlike unit titles, sellers of company share apartments do not have to follow strict rules about disclosure to prospective buyers.