It's All in The Title

Nov. 19, 2019

The Certificate of Title records the legal ownership of a property, the type of legal interest, and any registered obligations.   There are various types of title, each conferring different rights. 


Fee Simple

A fee simple title, sometimes referred to as a 'freehold' estate, is the greatest possible interest in land.  The registered owner holds the land together with any improvements built on the land such as the home or garage. 


Cross Lease

A cross lease is a form of joint ownership.  Neighbouring property owners jointly own an underlying estate in fee simple, and each lease their home back from the other co-owners.   This form of ownership was popular for a while in New Zealand due to strict subdivision rules.   Cross lease properties can be semi-detached or standalone. 

If you are considering buying a cross lease property, it is imperative that a lawyer checks the title before you enter into an unconditional agreement to purchase.   The cross lease will have a deposited plan attached to the Certificate of Title (a 'flats plan') which shows the location of the buildings.   If the flats plan does not accurately reflect the outline of the buildings and other structures on the land, the title may be defective which can be expensive to remedy. 

The lease is likely to have restrictions on how the cross lease property owners can use their flats - this can include restrictions on paint colours, use of driveways or walkways, and restrictions on structural alterations to the buildings without prior written consent of the co-lessee(s). 



A leasehold title does not confer ownership of the land, but a right of use and exclusive possession for a limited period of time.  The underlying freehold or fee simple estate is retained by another person or entity, who is paid an annual 'ground rent' by the owner of the leasehold interest.  At the end of the lease term, the land and building will revert back to the owner of the underlying fee simple estate. 

As with a cross lease, it is paramount that a lawyer read the lease information before you enter an unconditional agreement to purchase a leasehold property.  There are many variables in a leasehold, such as frequency of rent review, restrictions on use, and term of the lease. Ground rent can increase substantially over the term of the lease.



Unit Title

Unit title ownership (also referred to as a 'stratum estate')  is a common form of joint ownership used primarily for apartment complexes or townhouses.   Unit title owners acquire an interest in their unit and a share of the "common areas" such as lobbies, outdoor areas or hallways.    Unit title properties are governed by a body corporate, which will make decisions for the complex such as maintenance or repairs, insurance, levies and management. 


For property-specific, tailored advice, contact our experienced property lawyers on


Nina Becker
Staff Solicitor


Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not tailored to your personal circumstances. It is only current as at the date posted and should not be relied upon as legal advice. For legal advice applicable to your situation, please contact us for an appointment.