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What is a Torrens Title?

By Donn Saylor
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Torrens title is a type of land title in which a court grants a certificate of title to those listed on the property's register of land holdings. The process is done to register titles to real estate with the aim of avoiding the problems, costs, and ambiguities of older systems of title. A Torrens title is also known as Torrens property or registered property.

This type of property law was first utilized in Australia in 1858, when Sir Robert Torrens, the Premier of South Australia, set out to address the imperfections in the deeds registration system of the time. When the old system caused a major loss in land grants, Torrens devised the new system, in which a centralized registry of all land in the region recorded the transfers of properties and the names of the various landowners. With the names then legally recorded, landowners had full, inalienable rights to their property, preventing any confusion over who actually owned the property and possessed the title. A quick look-up in the land holdings register could give the name of the legal owner of the property.

Understandably, the land register is the key focus of the Torrens title system. In this detailed catalog, each property is assigned a number, and, in addition to the owner's name, the dimensions of the property and its boundaries, as well as a record of any legal issues concerning the property. The registrar who maintains the list updates it with any legal changes, such as a transfer of ownership. Traditionally, the register of land holdings was done on paper, but in the modern era it has switched to a computer database system of record keeping.

There are three guiding principles of the Torrens title system. One is the mirror principle, which means the register correctly mirrors the information on the property's title; if the property is sold, the mirror principle ensures that the only information that is changed in the register is the landowner's name. With the curtain principle, the certificate of title serves as the main proof of ownership, eradicating the need for lengthy documentation. There is also an insurance principle, which financially protects the landowner against loss should the registrar make any mistakes in the proper registration of the property.

The Torrens title system is primarily utilized in Canada, Europe, and British Commonwealth countries. It is in limited use in the United States. In France, a Torrens title is known as a cadastre and follows the same general principles.

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