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What Exactly Do I own?

Originally Published in Nelson Marlborough Farming December 2011

New Zealand has what some regard as the Rolls Royce of land ownership schemes called the Torrens System in which the government is the keeper of all land and title records, and a land title serves as a certificate of full, indefeasible, and valid ownership. This gives landowners much certainty as to what, where and how much they own. A plan is held by the Government, or land Information NZ to be precise, which can be used by a surveyor to accurately replicate where your boundaries are.

However there are some exceptions. A reasonable number of titles have the innocuous words “limited as to parcels” endorsed on them in fairly small text. This means that land Information NZ has identified that the boundaries of these titles have never been properly surveyed and that they may be too shaky to issue a title guaranteed by the government.

For owners of limited as to parcels titles to obtain certainty as to what they own, a full survey of the property needs to be done by a surveyor and accurate plans lodged with Land Information NZ so that the limitations can be lifted and a guaranteed title can issue.In the case of a limited title what one owns is a bit less clear, and the old fences (as well as the old documents) can be used by a surveyor to determine where the boundaries are.

This means that the old rickety moss covered fence that you have been meaning to replace for the last 20 years may become the best evidence of where the legal boundary is. If you do own a limited as to parcels title where there could be a dispute over the boundaries it might be worth documenting where the old fences are before replacing them.

The good news is that when one removes the limitations it can go either way, some times you lose, but it can be that the size of the title increases. Recently we did one where the landowner gained 7 Hectares on a 50 Hectare title.

Another way land ownership becomes a bit fuzzy is where there is natural boundary with a river, lake or the sea and the water body moves. If there is erosion, that’s bad luck (or bad management) but if the water body can be shown to have moved away from your property as a result of natural processes in a gradual and imperceptible way, leaving solid land behind, then one can (in many instances) claim the land as accretion.

Another trap is marginal strips. When land is disposed of by the Crown they usually create marginal strips from the banks of rivers which are often 20m wide and retained by the Crown and administered by the Department of Conservation. Often these strips are not marked out, the land area shown on the title includes the land in the Marginal strip and they are not shown separately on survey plans. Often the only clue to their existence is the words on the title “subject to Part IVA Conservation Act 1987”. Some titles with long river boundaries own many Hectares less than that what is shown on their titles.

Overall we have a pretty solid land title system in New Zealand, there are just a few wrinkles that need to beironed out from time to time.

This article was prepared by John Cotton specialized in rural surveys.

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