A Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is a fundamental land title document in Nigeria — along with other documents like the survey plan and the deed of assignment. Getting a C of O is one of the steps you need to take when purchasing land or property in Nigeria. As a government issued document, the Certificate of Occupancy proves ownership of land. This article will expand on this in detail.

What is a Certificate of Occupancy?

A Certificate of Occupancy is a land title document that is issued by the government to landowners, as a legal proof of land ownership in Nigeria. A plot of land or property without a C of O can be confiscated at any time without any compensation paid.

The Land Use Act 1978 — standardized land administration in Nigeria by vesting all urban land within a state, in the state governor (rural land is administrated by the local governments in which they are found). The land use act gave state governors the power to grant “statutory rights of occupancy” as they deemed appropriate. In addition, this act introduced the concept of land use (residential, commercial, mixed use etc.).

With this act came the abolishment of all existing freehold systems, in favor of a lease hold system. These leases are usually granted for a maximum period of 99 years – after which one must apply for renewal.

Common things found on a C of O include:

  • Certificate of Occupancy no.
  • File no.
  • Plot no.
  • Location (district details and cadastral zone)
  • Plot size
  • Survey plan or graphic (plot shape)
  • Date of issue
  • Lease term
  • Initial annual ground rent fees
  • Land use purpose
  • Terms and conditions

When do you need a Certificate of Occupancy?

There are a number of reasons for needing a Certificate of Occupancy including:

Property development

In order to get building approval for new construction projects, a Certificate of Occupancy is one of the title documents needed.

Converting a property

When you want to change the use of a property, a C of O is usually required. For example, a commercial warehouse being converted to residential units.

A change in ownership

Regardless of the type of property — as long as there is a change of ownership, a new certificate of occupancy may sometimes be required.

Where to get a Certificate of Occupancy?

You can get a Certificate of Occupancy through the appropriate state government — specifically the department in charge of land matters.

How do you obtain a Certificate of Occupancy?

Along with managing existing Certificates of Occupancy, land administration departments also deal with fresh government land applications — ultimately leading to the issuance of new Certificates of Occupancy. Government land applications involve a number of administrative fees that need to be paid, before being issued a C of O.

The other way to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy is purchasing genuine property/land from someone who has such (on the secondary market). You can then proceed to change the ownership title at the land registry.

How much does it cost to get a C of O?

The cost of getting a C of O varies from state to state — generally the cost is related to actual Fair Market Value (FMV) of the land in question. Accordingly, getting a Certificate of Occupancy in Lagos or Abuja, is relatively more expensive — as compared to other states.

Benefits of having a Certificate of Occupancy

  • Clearly identifies you as the specific owner of a plot of land — preventing situations where multiple people claim ownership to the same property
  • Prevents government from repossessing or revoking your rights to land without compensation
  • Certificates of Occupancy are accepted as collateral for loans from financial institutions such as banks (mortgage, retail and commercial.)
  • Increases the value of your land, the process for obtaining a C of O can be both long and expensive.

Final thoughts

For any building structure be it a bungalow, mansion, office, hospital or skyscraper etc. the Certificate of Occupancy — is what proves that you legally have an interest on the land upon which a property stands on.

Despite this, there are other title documents that you should verify (where appropriate) such as the deed of assignment — when undertaking land or property transactions in Nigeria.

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