Drawing upon his experience as a customs official, his knowledge of the United Kingdom method of registering merchant ships, and ideas from German lawyer, Ulrich Hübbe – an expert on the Hanseatic registration system who lived in Australia at the time – Sir Robert Torrens (1814-1884) introduced the Real Property Act to the South Australian parliament in 1858. The Torrens title system has since become a standard title for property ownership throughout Australia, and many parts of the world.
Sir Robert was Registrar-General and Treasurer of South Australia, and later became a Member of the House of Assembly. He worked and lobbied for many years before it became law.
In days of old, vendors were required to demonstrate ownership by providing evidence of the paper trail of owners right back to the initial Crown land grant. This system was fraught, even in the brief history of Australia, and one can only imagine the plethora of possibilities in places of far greater history – the United Kingdom, for example.
The Torrens system replaced that convoluted method by providing a central government registry of current owners of land, and has 3 basic principles at its core:
- Mirror principle – the register accurately reflects, or mirrors, completely and accurately the current owner of a lot, and faithfully records details of title transfer, covenants or easements, all viewable by anyone.
- Curtain principle – there is no need to look behind the curtain of the Certificate of Title to find some obscured detail, the Title provides all details in plain view – a single layer of up-to-date facts about the lot.
- Indemnity principle – this provides compensation for loss caused by any private fraud or errors in the registry.
The registry is maintained by NSW Land Registry Services, and further to the third bullet point, the Office of the Registrar General administers the Torrens Assurance Fund to back up the State guarantee of title.
Ownership of a property under the Torrens title system, also called freehold, effectively provides single ownership of the property (including ownership in joint names) and allows for the addition and development of buildings (subject to local Council compliance and approval). Equally, the owner is solely responsible for maintenance of the land and dwellings.
What about strata – how does that work?
Strata ownership applies to dwellings – often described as townhouses or villa units – that share a common lot of land, and in some cases, such as apartments, they also share a building. Owners of individual units own their dwelling but share in the access and maintenance responsibility of any common areas such as parking spaces, driveways, gardens, and pools, and in the case of apartment blocks, lift areas, and hallways.
Owners have a responsibility to maintain the internal area of their dwelling, but all other areas are managed by an Owners Corporation – a body of several owners who are elected to serve on the owners’ committee for periods of time. The so-called body corporate will establish a set of by-laws covering all aspects of maintenance and use of the facility and will be responsible for collecting strata fees (or levies) for ongoing maintenance and development of the common areas.
The Owners Corporation will invariably contract a strata management company to oversee the overall management by holding the books, administering strata levies, and organising maintenance.
Strata ownership provides a layer, or strata, of ownership, whereby title is shared by a number of individual owners.
In the event that you find yourself in need of assistance, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.