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What Is a Torrens System?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2016
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The Torrens system is a type of land registration system developed in Australia by Sir Robert Torrens in 1857, modeled in part after methods used in the United Kingdom for registering merchant ships. Titles and state registries, under the principle of “title by registration” are the hallmark of a Torrens system for registration of deeds. Upon transfer of a piece of real property under a Torrens system, the new owner’s name is listed in a state or government registry and a proper title issued. The owner’s legal claim to the property is deemed valid until a new owner demonstrates proof of proper sale and transfer and thus adds their name to the registry.

Unlike a deed registration system, which operates on a “registration by title” basis, a system requiring proof of title prior to registration, the Torrens system requires registration prior to the issuance of a title. Titles are issued to new owners upon proper transfer from the previously registered owner. Historical records of previous owners may be kept in a Torrens-based system, but are not the basis for awarding a registered title. Rather than an owner showing proof of proper deed, ownership is established and legally validated by the appearance of the owner’s name in the state registry. Establishing a legal claim of ownership merely requires proof of the owner’s name in the registry.

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Prior to the Torrens system, landowners in Australia were required to maintain complex transfer documents on their land, showing the chain of ownership back to the origination of the property, or root of title. Documents might date back several generations, presenting a difficult record-keeping proposition for owners and allowing unscrupulous individuals ample opportunity for forgery. With the introduction of the system developed by Sir Robert Torrens, the state kept a central registration of deeds and current owners, including maps of registered parcels. The Torrens system required less costly research and questionable record keeping. Deeds and property transfer records could not be forged to prove ownership, ending lengthy disputes between claimants.

Australian common law practices regarding property deeds prior to the Real Property Act of 1886 resulted in the loss of numerous land grants in Australia. The growing problem of property disputes and lost grants spawned the development of a more systematic, government-controlled solution. Sir Robert Torrens’s system of state registries and titles was so successful in resolving such property disputes and questionable practices that other territories and countries adopted a similar system. For example, the Dominican Republic initiated its own Torrens system in the 1920s. Numerous states in the United States, including Georgia, North Carolina, and New York, still use similar title systems and land laws.

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