Acquiring Customary Land – What you need to know

Zambian land law recognises that people can own land in two ways; through a state lease where a person holds title deeds or through customary tenure where a chief, grants a person the right to occupy a piece of land. Although there are no title deeds that accompany customary tenure, a person can convert their property into a state lease and obtain title deeds for that piece of land. Someone may wish to do this for a number of reasons:

Title deeds are conclusive evidence of ownership and can only be challenged under strict circumstances customary land can be more easily challenged due to a lack of title the exact size, location and borders of the land are captured in the title deed whereas customary land sizes and borders are based on rudimentary estimates and landmarks perhaps the most important reason; you can access financing from a bank with title deeds; and you can sell land that is on title whereas government restricts selling of customary land as it should be “allocated” to subjects within a chiefdom.

Because the law recognises customary tenure it seeks to protect those that are holding land in this manner. Therefore, the law requires that anyone converting customary land into state land must gain the consent of those who may be affected by the conversion of the land if they wish to obtain title deeds. In addition, even the chief must consult their subjects who may be affected before they give their consent to the conversion.

The difficulty comes when you buy customary land and you are not aware of competing interests on that land. You may buy the land from a person or village headman who has ignored the interest of other members of the community that have a claim to that land. If you are not a member of the community it may be impossible to become aware of these demands. Once the land is converted and title deeds are obtained, you may find yourself being challenged by the community and losing your property. Whether you are buying state land or customary land, always ensure you consult professional advisors to make sure your interests are protected.

(The above information is intended to provide general information only. The contents contained in this article do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice please contact a licensed legal professional.)

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