Newfoundland Houses and Title laws

by Rhys Toogood
(March Cambridgeshire)

Newfoundland houses and title laws are a bit different than what you may be familiar with.

Frugal living in Newfoundland

Rhys's house in Newfoundland

Newfoundland houses are made of wood. One of my more disrespectful nieces referred to my house as a hut. There where no architects in Newfoundland to begin with, so they developed their own houses.

The traditional Newfoundland house is called a Salt Box, because it was shaped like a 17th century salt box.

Initially saltboxes where one story high, then as they got more confident one and a half, then finally two. Probably no salt boxes have been built in the last sixty or seventy years, mine is eighty years old, older ones can receive grants from Newfoundland Heritage because there are not so many left.

As of now the house is fairly traditional, it does have plastic double glazing, most have plastic siding, mine still has clapboard and I intend to keep with that as long as practical.

A house inspection (survey to the English) will cost about $800, this could be 5% or more of the purchase price, you can fix a lot for $800 if you do the work yourself, so against conventional wisdom I bought my house without an inspection and without inspecting it myself either.

I justified that decision because I was not paying more than the site was worth, and the seller was adamant they would not go any lower. As it turned out, there was dry rot around both doors, I will have to splice some new timber in next year, not an expensive job, but it will test my carpentry skills.

The early settlements in Newfoundland where mostly illegal. The English West Country fisherman saw settlers as rivals, and sometimes had orders to burnt settlers houses. A lot of houses in these communities are still not registered, the owners family might have lived there for the last 200 years, but they do not have good title in law.

Newfoundland was a British Colony until it joined Canada in 1949, like most of the British Commonwealth and some States in the USA, common law prevails. Common law, is a Saxon heritage, courts can make decisions based on custom and practice rather than statute.

Adverse possession or squatters rights is part of common law, the length of tenure necessary to qualify for adverse possession varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but basically in England if you take possession of a piece of land or a house and occupy it for ten years continuously, then the land or house is yours.

However you cannot hold adverse possession of crown land (Federal Property to Americans). The Newfoundland Government claims all unregistered land as crown property.

The Newfoundland government passed an act in 1971, which enabled people who could prove "Open, Notorious, Exclusive and Continuous Possession" of the land for twenty years previous the grant of the land for a fee of about $400. This means to get good title, you have to prove ownership back to January the first 1951, not easy, and not all lawyers will take it on.

The local custom is to notarize the sale before a justice of the peace (For Americans, a Justice of the peace is not a lawyer, but a lay person of immaculate reputation, who acts an unpaid judge in minor court cases.

He can notarize oaths, if you swear in front of him). Sales performed in this fashion do not give good title. A part of the procedure for registering the land requires you to engage a Chartered Land Surveyor, he will draw a plan of where your boundaries are.

There are only about twenty chartered surveyors in all of Newfoundland and they all seem to be perpetually busy. The survey fee will be about $800 and if you can get it done within a month that’s quick in my experience.

The lawyers fees for conveyancing the property will be similar, but if it has to be registered as well, think double that.

You may wish to stay clear of unregistered property, the process takes months, but it is much easier to sell a registered property, and you will get a better price when its time to sell if the buyer can get a mortgage on it, he won’t be able to if its not registered.

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