Understanding title when buying real estate

Langley and Surrey Real Estate Lawyers

Obtaining and reviewing the title of a property is one of the most important steps to be done when buying real estate.

The buyer’s lawyer will usually wish to discuss the items on title with their client to ensure the client understands exactly what they are buying. The seller’s lawyer will usually review title to understand which charges they will need to remove, or discharge, from title when the property passes hands.

What is a title search?

Title records for properties in British Columbia are managed by The Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia (“LTSA”).

Each parcel of land in British Columbia is identified by a legal description which includes a parcel identifier number (“PID”). The PID is a nine-digit number unique to each parcel of land which is required to search title through LTSA. The PID can usually be found through BC Property Assessment. If you have any questions about how to find this number, your lawyer will be able to assist you.

Once a title search has been obtained through LTSA, you will be able to see a listing of all the financial and non-financial charges that are registered against the title to the property. Information on each charge can then be obtained from LTSA for a nominal fee.

What information is on title?

In addition to showing who owns the property, the title will also show financial and non-financial encumbrances (i.e. legal interests) registered against the title. These can include:

  • Mortgages

    Loans taken by the owner of the property and secured against the property as collateral.

  • Statutory Rights of Way

    These are interests in land, typically placed on title by public bodies (i.e. government, municipal corporations or utilities) to give these parties access to and rights on the land. These are fairly common to see on title and are often of little concern to buyers. However, certain statutory rights of way can significantly impair the use of the property, and your expectations of how you are going to use the property may not align with the right of way in place.

  • Easements

    These are interests in land where the owner of a property has rights over an adjoining property, such as access rights or encroachment rights. If you are buying a property with an easement, it is important to understand how this easement may limit or impair the use of your property.

  • Certificates of Pending Litigation

    These are certificates issued by the court and filed at LTSA. These typically arise if a proceeding has been commenced by the court where there is a claim for an estate or an interest in land. These certificates can affect whether or not title can transfer to a buyer, and therefore if one is on title you should speak with a lawyer to discuss your options.

  • Caveats

    These are registered on title based on a court request and typically last for 60 days, unless removed. Similar to a certificate of pending litigation, these encumbrances typically prevent any transfers of title and must be addressed before a conveyance can be completed.

In addition to the encumbrances mentioned above, there are a number of other charges that can be found on title, such as statutory covenants, builders liens, leases and various court judgments.

There may be claims to the property that are not identified on title. Many of these charges can have a significant impact on the use and enjoyment of the property, as well as on the ability to conveyance the property from seller to buyer.

There is often a condition in the contract of purchase and sale stating that the purchase is subject to a review of title to the buyer’s sole satisfaction. Before removing subjects and going “firm” on a real estate deal, it is strongly recommended that you contact a lawyer to review your title and discuss the encumbrances or charges identified.


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