Do you know that the Certificate of Occupancy also known as C of O is the most important document to a landowner or property buyer in Nigeria? This document is issued by the state governments in Nigeria and declares you as the legitimate owner of land or property.
A piece of land or property bought without a Certificate of Occupancy is as good as possessing a vehicle without a logbook. This is clearly not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in as a landowner or property owner in Nigeria.
This article will make clear everything you need to know about the Certificate of Occupancy(C of O) in Nigeria including the steps to take to obtain one.
a certificate of occupancy in recent times is a useful piece of document, while it is not the ultimate proof of the right of occupancy over land, it is one that is recognized by the law unless a far better title is proved, which is unlikely in most cases
What is a Certificate of Occupancy?
A Certificate of Occupancy is a land title document that is issued to an individual by the government, as legal proof of land ownership in Nigeria. A plot of land or property without a C of O can be seized at any time without any compensation paid.
According to Section 9 of the Land Use Act 1978, the State Governor of the state in Nigeria where the land is located has the power to issue the certificate of occupancy. The Section provides that “When any person is entitled to a statutory right of occupancy, to issue a certificate under his hand in evidence of such right of occupancy” this act introduced the notion of land use (residential, commercial, mixed-use, etc.).
Some people believe that the certificate of occupancy granted by the government is a way for them to remain in control of the land. It would seem that the act is merely a trapping giving the occupant a period of 99years to sublet the land.
One of the features that make a Certificate of Occupancy different from all other title documents is that no land in Nigeria can bear two Certificates of Occupancy because it is the first title document issued on land whether bare or developed, which has never been registered at the land registry.
The land, upon which a C of O is issued, is first registered by the office of the Surveyor-General of the State or the Federation where it is Federal land. The essence of charting the land is to work out if it is free from any government acquisition.
Here are some of the things found on the C of O:
- Certificate of Occupancy number
- File number
- Plot number
- Location details
- Plot size
- Survey plan or graphic (plot shape)
- Date of issue
- Lease term
- Initial annual ground rent fees
- Land use purpose
- Terms and conditions
Importance of Having a Certificate of Occupancy
- Having a C of O ascertains one as the owner of a plot of land or property.
- It prevents the government from confiscating one’s land or property without compensation.
- For bank loans, a Certificate of Occupancy is accepted as collateral.
- Having a C of O increases the value of one’s land particularly in Abuja.
- Prevents a situation where a single property is claimed by multiple owners.
Where to get a Certificate of Occupancy
You can get a Certificate of Occupancy through the appropriate state government specifically the department responsible for land matters.
How to Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy
The individual that you are buying the land or property from determines how you will get your Certificate of Occupancy. If you are buying from natives, also known as ‘Omo Onile’ in Lagos, you have to first confirm that the land or property you are about to pay for has not been acquired by the government.
After you must have confirmed from the authorities that the land being sold to you is legally owned by the seller, then you find out if the owner already has a Certificate of Ownership for the land. If the person or entity you are buying from already possesses a C of O all you have to do is proceed to change the ownership title at the land registry.
The second entity that is authorized legally to sell land to you is the state government. If you are buying directly from the government, the process of obtaining your C of O would be simple and straightforward as it will be initiated as soon as the sale is confirmed.
How Much Does it Cost to Acquire a COO?
The cost of getting a C of O varies from state to state. The certificate of Occupancy fee is dependent on what phase of the city the plot is sited in. Getting a Certificate of Occupancy in Lagos or Abuja is somewhat more expensive compared to other states.
In some parts of Nigeria such as Abuja and Lagos, the Certificate of Occupancy is calculated per square meter of land but generally, the cost is connected to the actual Fair Market Value (FMV) of the land you want to acquire.
Steps to Obtaining a C of O in Lagos
Acquiring a Certificate of Occupancy requires following a clearly spelt out procedure and some documentation which takes a minimum of 21 working days.
Take a look at the steps for obtaining a CO in Lagos and Abuja below.
Steps to Obtaining C of O for State-Owned Land
- The Applicant should obtain a form from the Ministry (Land Use and Allocation Section) or download same from their website and submit the application form with the following attached;
- Your tax clearance or evidence of being domiciled abroad.
- Passport Photographs (3 copies)
- An official receipt for application fees of #5,000 for residential land use or #10000 for Commercial land use.
- Applicant collects an acknowledgment slip as evidence of payment.
- Applicant collects letter of allocation.
- Applicants pay for allocated land (In a period not less than 90 days)
- The letter of confirmation is issued to the applicant with a plot and block Number.
- The Scheme Officer begins the processing of the application for the C of O, signs off on the file, and forwards the files to the Executive Secretary of Land Use Allocation Commission. (LUAC) – 5 Days.
- The Surveyor General provides Scheme Officer with a digitized survey copy (2 Days)
- The Executive Secretary to LUAC approves processing and signs a letter of allocation
- The Executive Secretary LUAC signs off on the file
- The Executive Secretary LUAC sends the file to the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor, Lands (2 days)
- The Senior Special Assistant, Lands examines the entire file and sends it with a covering memo to the Permanent Secretary (PS) Lands Bureau (2 days)
- Should the file have a query, the message is relayed back by notification for correction.
- The Permanent Secretary Lands Bureau signs off on the memo and sends the file to the Governor (2 days)
- The Governor then approves the file and electronically signs the C of O (2 days)
- If the file has a query, a message is relayed back by notification.
- Once the C of O has been approved and signed, the Governor signs off and sends the file to the Deputy Registrar for further processing (2 days)
- The Deputy Registrar processes the file further, signs off, and send the file to the Registrar of Titles for final registration (2 days)
- The Registrar of Titles registers the C of O, signs off, and request for printing of C of O (1 day)
Required Documents for a State-Owned Land
To obtain a Certificate of Occupancy for state-owned land, you need the following:
- Formal Letter addressed to the Executive Secretary –
- Land Use and Allocation Committee, Block 13, Room 4, Lands Bureau, The Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja. (For the Executive Secretary in Lagos)
- 2nd Floor (257-237), Block 4A, New Federal, Secretariat Complex, Shehu Shagari Way.Central Area, Abuja (For the Executive Secretary in Abuja)
- Standard Allocation Form with Receipt. Lekki Pennisula Schemes, Abijo Commercial and Industrial (Form for Prime Land); other areas (Form for General).
- Four Passport Photographs with white background.
- Evidence of payment of Income Tax.
- Current Development Levy (In case of a company, Evidence of payment of Income Tax of Two Directors and Development Levy).
- Survey Plan
- All payment receipts of Land Charges
- Vital Information Form
Steps to Obtaining a C of O for Non-State-Owned Land
The procedures to follow in obtaining C of O for non-state-owned land are quite different from that of state-owned. To acquire a Certificate of Occupancy for non-state-owned land, follow the following steps:
- Submit Application and Vital Information Form for Certificate of Occupancy.
- The applicant’s name is compiled for publication
- Title Search for previous Registration and Site Inspection (21 days)
- Certificate of Occupancy Engrossment (by Land Use Allocation Committee)
- Recommendation for the execution of Certificate of Occupancy (by Executive Secretary Land Use Allocation Committee, Senior Special Assistant Lands & Permanent Secretary Lands)
- Execution of Certificate of Occupancy (by Governor)
- Stamp Duty (by Commissioner for Stamp Duties)
- Registration of Certificate of Occupancy (by Land Registry)
- Collection of executed and registered Certificate of Occupancy (by you).
Required Documents for Non-State-Owned Land
If you have just purchased a land or property from a native (Omo Onile), you need the following documents to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy.
- A formal Letter addressed to the Executive Secretary Land Use Allocation Committee located at Block 13, Room 4, Lands Bureau, The Secretariat, Alausa in Ikeja
- A completed Certificate of Occupancy Form with receipt
- A Land Information Certificate with receipt
- Four original Survey Plan (2 in cloth and 2 in paper)
- Four passport photograph with white background
- A sketch map of the site Location
- Duly stamped purchase receipt
- Evidence of payment of Income Tax
- Current development levy (In the case of a company, you need 2 Directors Tax Clearance and development levy)
- A Publication Fee of N10,000.00
- Capital contribution fee subject to a minimum of N30,000.00
- Building plan approval if developed.
- A copy of the Tenement Rate receipt (if the property is occupied)
Take note that incomplete application or any insufficient information may lead to the rejection of the application by the authority.
ELECTRONIC CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY LAGOS
The Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode approved the release of Electronic Certificates of Occupancy In 2015, and it has since eased the stress of acquiring the title documents for property bought in Lagos State. This electronic C of O does not in any way render the hardcopy version of the C of O worthless.
The objective of the project is to launch a fully automated and digital method for issuing C-of-O in Lagos to reduce the bulk of documents required in the process of land transactions.
This method will also save buyers from fraudulent sellers such that when the C of O number is input into a computer system, all existing transactions that have been carried out on the said property will be provided hence the buyer knows if the property has been acquired or not.
Though the Certificate of Occupancy is an important title document, it is not the only land document you should be aware of. A Certificate of Occupancy only serves as legal proof of ownership of land purchased. To legitimize property transactions, other documents such as the deeds of assignment, deed of lease, deed of gift, vesting orders, and assents need to be looked into. This is particularly for built or developed properties that may have changed ownership multiple times.
In conclusion, don’t just focus on the CO but also pay attention to the ownership of the property and how the seller came by the property. It is compulsory to make findings to ensure that the property indeed belongs to the people claiming ownership of it. Hiring an experienced lawyer might even be the best way to go about it.