© The Star Online (Used by permission)
by Elison Wong Seow Ching
MANY of you who are property owners, whether you live on landed property (for example, single storey or double storey houses or bungalows) or in a strata development such as condominiums or apartments, would have in your possession a document called “issue document of title” for landed properties or “strata title” for stratified properties.
For easy reference, I will refer to both in a generic term called “title”.
The importance of a title is, it represents proof of your ownership of the property. It also contains other particulars, such as the category of land use, possible restrictions and whether your tenure of ownership is in perpetuity or, in the case of leasehold land, limited.
Currently, property titles are still in printed form, meaning to say that you must possess the physical document called “Geran” or “Hakmilik Sementara” and be able to produce your title if you wish to deal with your property.Hence, each time you need to deal with your property, such as to register a transfer on a sale, charge your property as security for a loan, transmit to an executor or administrator in the event of death, the physical title must be handed over to the land office or land registry (for convenience, “the land office”).
Over time, physical titles deteriorate and unlike wine, their condition does not improve with age. Titles do become tattered, torn and it is not uncommon to lose titles through theft, fire, flood or relocation.
Amendments were made to the National Land Code, 1965 (NLC) and the Strata Titles Act, 1985 for a “Computerised Land Registration System” (CLRS) better known by its Bahasa Malaysia acronym, SPTB (Sistem Pendaftaran Tanah Berkomputer) where certain dealings, procedures, endorsements, notes and memorials can be done electronically.
Computerisation started with the manually prepared titles being converted to the computer printed version. The manual method of preparing documents of title and recording transactions was done away with by the use of the computer. Each time an instrument is registered or an endorsement made, a new issue document of title (IDT) is printed together with an exact copy called the register document of title (RDT). These are printed copies on A4 security paper in order to prevent fraud. The IDT is issued to the owner of the property. The RDT is retained by the land office.
Computerisation was further developed to extend into the processes in land administration under the Electronic Land Administration System, popularly known as e-Tanah. It is believed that work processes and record keeping have improved with automation. Land databases are not just stored manually in buildings but, digitally, which means the data is safe from physical destruction such as fire or flood and the integrity of the data stored remains intact because the data is safer from being tampered, compared to physical alteration on manual documents.
Currently, the most advanced e-Tanah system is by the Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur Land and Mines Office (the KL Land Office). From the KL Land Office e-Tanah portal, land searches can be conducted online electronically, retrieving the information instantly. The ability to obtain information within minutes has been most beneficial to users like lawyers, financiers, property agents, potential buyers and other interested parties who need to access such property information or to verify the authenticity of information disclosed by a property owner.
The beauty of the KL Land Office e-Tanah is that for straightforward dealings such as registration of transfer and charge (for properties purchased via loan), the registration processes are completed by the following day. The speedy registration has facilitated smoother and, to a certain extent, more successful transactions because the KL Land Office will notify a user via email if amendments or rectifications are required, which in turn expedites resolution.
Another feature which has also further improved the conveyancing process is the convenience of being able to conduct other related searches, such as bankruptcy (for individuals) and winding-up (for corporations) from the same e-Tanah platform. Additionally, KL property owners can obtain a print-out and pay their land or (since Jan 1,2020) parcel rent from the KL Land Office e-Tanah portal.
The ability to obtain and access information is important for conveyancing and while the KL Land Office e-Tanah has hit all the right notes and have contributed to a more efficient process in the property ecosystem, we are of the view that further improvements can be made. For example, obtaining detailed information on caveats entered over a particular property.
Projecting forward, we will also need to graduate to registering land transactions online and embrace the possibility that in the near future, we will no longer possess physical titles and in its place will be e-titles (electronic titles).
In Malaysia, land is under the control of each state. We hope that there could be some consistency and commonality in all e-Tanah systems, when e-Tanah is rolled out to all states. It is also hoped that a common sign-in can be effected so that a user need only register with one state and be able to access the e-Tanah of all states.
Within the next decade, the writer will be part of the Digital Generation in the geriatric category and it is important that our e-Tanah system can adapt and transit successfully to a fully digital system that caters not just to current users but also extend to millennials in a paperless, in real time and an “always accessible” manner.
Elison Wong Seow Ching, a lawyer practising at Messrs Elison Wong, is a member of the Conveyancing Practice Committee, Bar Council, Malaysia. This column does not constitute legal advice and the views expressed here are the writer’s own.