Fake land deeds causing trouble for real estate dealers

Fake documentation for land has spiked as the property market cooled this year, requiring land traders to slow deals and add expenses as they authenticate the deeds, according to Myanmar Real Estate Service Association general secretary Daw Moh Moh Aung.

Traders and land owners are forced to spend money hiring experts to tell the real deeds apart from the fakes, but some still end up getting stuck with forgeries.

“We’ve seen some cases where there are two or three grant letters, and five or six slips and land permits, all claiming ownership over the same piece of land,” said Daw Moh Moh Aung.

She added that incidents appear to have climbed in recent months as the market has slown down. Buyers must make sure they are receiving the correct deed for the property they are buying.

“It can be difficult differentiating what property is real and what is a fake,” said Ko Win Htein from Aye Yeik San real estate.

Local banks often require a deed to be stored at the bank before giving out a loan. They must closely scrutinise documents for authenticity.

CB Bank employs lawyers to check out documents with Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), according to managing director U Pe Myint.

“We use our money to hire lawyers and pay fees at YCDC. If we don’t check, we can’t find out what is a real grant document and what is a fake grant,” he said.

One problem encountered by CB is people attempting to borrow from three or four banks simultaneously, pledging the same piece of land as collateral. Sometimes a person will deposit the genuine deed with one bank and then try to use copies at other banks to take out loans.

“As a bank, we need to check grant deeds at YCDC,” said U Pe Myint.

Pedro Jose Bernardo, principal foreign consulting attorney at Kelvin Chia Yangon, said that if the authenticity of a deed is in doubt, it is possible to make enquries with the relevant land office where the property is situated, as it will likely have records of ownership and provenance of land.

A comparison can then be made between information found on record at the land office versus the information set forth in the deed presented by the purported landholder, he said.

“The problem here is, of course, the reliability itself of the records in the land office, and we have had situations where records in the land office have not been updated, or where records no longer exist.”

Mr Bernardo added that with authenticity of the document established, the inquiry is not over.

Any person wanting to deal with land will also have to consider the classification of land, and the so-called “chain of title” from the person dealing with the land to the person indicated in the deed itself, he said.

YCDC has been in charge of most land owner documentation in Yangon since 1996, though some large housing projects and industrial zones are still handled by the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development.

If a property is under YCDC’s oversight, owners can be checked, with a waiting period of about a week, according to a senior Myanmar Real Estate Service Association official.

The Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development under the Ministry of Construction also keeps track of some land deed holders, said department deputy director U Htun Myint Aung.

Ko Min Min Soe, a real estate agent at Mya Pantha Khin, said that while he has personally never had a problem, fake paperwork is a constant issue among agents.

Grant land buyers must advertise in local newspapers to see if anyone has an objection when making a purchase. Usually no objection surfaces, but sometimes multiple people claim the same plot of land, which creates a court dispute.

“This is very terrible. When this happens the liar usually disappears, and the real owner ends up with the land. However, they have to go visit the judge, which also wastes time for YCDC officials.

Ko Min Min Soe said that particularly in outskirt areas, people will even put up buildings on land that other people claim to own, with the problem only becoming apparent after the building is constructed.

Agents say the problem has grown recently, though Mr Bernardo said that transactions have traditionally been conducted between people who have known and trusted each other. This meant that fake deeds have traditionally not usually been an issue.

“However, with the increasing demand for land, particularly by foreigners wanting to enter into long-term leases, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for unscrupulous persons to claim rights to land and pass off documents as genuine for the purpose of supporting a land transaction,” he said.

Myanmar also has a registration system in place under the 1909 Registration Act, though the practice of registration is not widely followed.

Source: Myanmar Times

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