What Getting Land Title Really Means

+ Jonathan Stewart

Many residents of developing countries do not have clear title to the land that they inhabit. This makes it difficult or impossible to use the land as collateral for loans or to monetize improvements made to the land, which decreases both the mobility of residents and the development of land.

In a recent Marron Institute working paper, Patricia Clarke Annez, Bijal Bhatt, and Bimal Patel document the requirements for gaining proper title to the land in a neighborhood of Ahmedabad, India. They find that “Surmounting the legal difficulties [of gaining clear title], if it were even feasible, would take years in the current system.” The process of gaining tenure goes beyond local government:

"The State Revenue department is on the critical path for upgrading from new to old tenure, for resolving conflicting claims to the land, agreeing to non-agricultural use, registering the transfer of ownership and updating the cadaster. Each of these steps requires a number of internal approvals within the Revenue Department, and the city has little leverage to speed this process."

The lack of clear title and residents’ inability to gain it ultimately distorts the urban spatial form:

"…widespread compromised title has a constricting effect on the supply of built space. More intensive use of the land is prevented by a version of the ‘anti-commons’ (Heller: 1998), where incomplete property rights prevent exploitation of a valuable resource—well located urban land. Expanded demand for built space must be met through more extensive use of serviced urban land in less settled and usually less well-located neighborhoods."

Tile image courtesy of Emmanuel Dyan.

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