Before Torrens, people bought property using a deed of conveyance. This was a document that set out in words, when you purchased the land, its location, measurements and any encumbrances. With each transaction would be a collection of all the previous deeds of conveyance for the land. A deed of conveyance is complex and cumbersome, needing the skills of a trained lawyer to certify the title. These skills are seldom taught today.
Sir Richard Robert Torrens (1814-84) introduced a bill into the South Australian parliament in 1858.
"WHEREAS the inhabitants of the Province of South Australia are subjected to losses, heavy costs, and much perplexity, by reason that the laws relating to the transfer and encumbrance of freehold and other interests in land are complex, cumbrous, and unsuited to the requirements of the said inhabitants, it is therefore expedient to amend the said laws..."
Its purpose was to establish a land registry. Each piece of land would have a single Certificate of Title, kept at a government office. The state government would guarantee the validity of the title, rather than the solicitor/conveyancer who prepared the deeds of conveyance. The bill became the Real Property Act (SA) of 1858.
The system slowly spread throughout Australia (to NSW in 1900), and, much later, overseas. Despite different jurisdictions, all states now have a land registry or titles office and use the term 'Torrens Title'. The process of conveyancing has become so simple that the buyers and sellers of property can do it themselves without a solicitor/conveyancer.
The Certificate of Title shows:
- The present owners
- Easements such as underground pipes that may require access for storm water or sewage, and 'right of carriageway' for neighbours get access to their property
- Covenants such as building restrictions
- Caveats such as a requirement for someone's approval before transfer of ownership
Strata title (called by different names in some states) is another Australian first. Instead of land, strata title describes a three dimensional block of 'air space'. It is an extension of the Torrens concept.
Thanks to the Torrens title system, conveyancing is a simple process that anyone can carry out.