UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Property grabbing and disputes are becoming increasingly common in Uganda, with many citizens struggling to protect their land and livelihoods from more powerful individuals who may claim ownership or use illegal means to take control.
Even those who take precautions can fall victim to encumbrances and dishonest caretakers, while political influence can render legal protections ineffective.
Land in urban areas and Kampala is particularly risky, with undeveloped land or absentee landlords more likely to experience property wrangles.
Retaining a lawyer to verify property ownership and status, and periodically conducting searches of land or property, can be useful preventative measures.
Prevalence and Causes of Property Grabbing
Many Ugandans have suffered the effects of property grabbing, which can lead to the loss of their rights to land and livelihoods.
Johnson Mutyaba, for instance, purchased a property comprising one acre of land and 16 rentals in Mukono District but could not supervise it because he was living in Ohio, USA.
Mutyaba hired a property manager, who attempted to lease part of the land using a photocopy of his land title, claiming that Mutyaba had bequeathed him the property and had succumbed to Covid-19.
However, Mutyaba managed to foil the manager’s plot and secure his property. Two years later, he is in another battle with a man who claims ownership of the land, saying that he made a partial payment on the property through a real estate dealer who later sold it to Mutyaba. This person keeps harassing the tenants and has recently fenced off part of the property.
Property grabbing is facilitated by political influence and connections that allow powerful individuals to use their status to disenfranchise those with less power. As such, those who lack political connections or financial resources may find it difficult to protect their property rights.
Even court judgements and legal procedures may not always be effective when someone with political influence decides otherwise. Furthermore, property grabbing may also occur due to the government giving away publicly owned land, leading to inequities in land ownership and access.
Vulnerabilities in Property Ownership
According to property lawyer, Nicholas Nsava Mbabazi, all properties in Uganda are currently vulnerable to grabbing due to the scarcity of land and increasing property values.
However, land in urban areas and the Metropolitan Kampala area is more prone to grabbing given its prime value.
The most vulnerable properties are those owned by absent landlords and undeveloped land without clear instruments of ownership such as land titles and verified agreements.
In addition, properties that are entrusted to caretakers are also more prone to grabbing, particularly if the caretakers are dishonest or unscrupulous.
Preventative Measures against Property Grabbing
To protect their property rights, owners should take preventative measures to avoid property wrangles.
One of the most important measures is to retain the services of a lawyer to verify that the land is free from all encumbrances and that the person one is dealing with is the actual owner of the property.
Lawyers can also process all the necessary documents and verifications, which would otherwise be difficult for owners to do themselves.
Property owners should also periodically search their land or property to police unprecedented claims and encumbrances, thereby identifying the conditions, caveats, pending rates, or encumbrances on the title. Searches can help owners ascertain the right property ownership and establish its existence.
Furthermore, property owners should be vigilant and avoid entrusting their properties to caretakers without conducting due diligence on their trustworthiness. This is especially important if one is travelling abroad or is unable to supervise the property regularly.
In addition, owners should ensure that their properties have clear documents of ownership, such as land titles and verified agreements, and that they are regularly updated and maintained.
Property owners also face the risk of property disputes. These disputes can arise when two or more parties claim ownership of the same property, or when one party claims a right to use the property that conflicts with the rights of another party.
Property disputes can be expensive and time-consuming to resolve and can result in financial losses for the property owner.
Cause of Property Disputes
One common cause of property disputes is boundary disputes. These disputes arise when there is a disagreement over the location of property boundaries. This can occur when there is no clear boundary marker or when the boundary marker has been removed or destroyed. Boundary disputes can be resolved through a survey of the property, but this can be expensive and time-consuming.
Another cause of property disputes is zoning disputes. These disputes arise when there is a disagreement over the permitted use of a property. For example, if a property is zoned for residential use but the owner wants to use it for commercial purposes, this can lead to a zoning dispute. Zoning disputes can be resolved through an appeal to the local zoning board, but this can also be time-consuming and expensive.
To avoid property disputes, property owners should be proactive in protecting their property rights. This includes conducting regular property inspections to ensure that there are no encroachments on their property and that their property is being used in compliance with local zoning laws.
Property owners should also ensure that they have clear and enforceable contracts with tenants, contractors, and other parties that use their property.
Property wrangles and grabs are serious threats to property owners in Uganda. The situation has been worsened by the inequities in land ownership and access, as well as the political influence of land grabbers.
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