The Land Status Puzzle

We were recently involved in an acquisition project for the New Zealand Transport Agency involving a ‘limited as to parcels’ title. There are many areas in New Zealand where these titles can be found as a result of areas not being surveyed before being brought under the Land Transfer Act. If you see this on a property title it means that there is no guarantee as to where the actual boundary lies, or more particularly what the boundary dimensions are. This sounds like a rather precarious situation, but in fact, the saying possession is nine-tenths of the law is particularly relevant in this circumstance.

There was recently an article in the local newspaper here in Nelson about a farmer caught up in a dispute involving unwanted freedom campers along a river bank adjoining the farm that has been in the same family since the 1870s. The farmer was at odds with the local council as to who should take responsibility for removing the unwanted visitors, citing the fact that the campers, some of whom had been there “for years” gaining access to the river bank from a paper road, which the farmer clearly didn’t own. The article stated that the farmer had been informed by council that he owned the land in question through to the centre line of the river.

Whilst we are not familiar with all the details in this case, we do know that at least some of the land in that locality is held in a title flagged as “limited as to parcels”. In theory, if the land in question was held in a limited title, and the farmer could demonstrate that he had never been in possession of the land, then ‘theoretically’ he could have rebutted council’s contention that the land was owned by him and put the onus back on to the council to deal with the campers.

Uncertainty around ownership of land is more common than you think, particularly in rural areas. At The Property Group we are fortunate to have some of the most experienced property consultants in the country who have decades of experience dating back to the former Department of Lands and Surveys era. Resolving issues of ownership is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle; with pieces of old survey plans dating back to the 1800s, entries in old deeds records, and even surveyors’ field notes all helping to tell a piece of the story of the history of the land. We call these jigsaw puzzle assignments ‘land status investigations’. This is one of the most fascinating the rewarding ways in which we are helping solve real property related issues across the country.