Certificate of Title: How to replace that crucial piece of paper when lost or destroyed

The recent and widespread destruction brought about by Typhoon Odette reminded me of the problems created by Super Typhoon Yolanda on the Certificates of Title at the Registry of Deeds in Tacloban.

Many of the original copies were either lost or damaged and many property owners lost their own duplicate copies when their houses were devastated by the storm surge.

What can we do when copies of titles are lost or destroyed? Can we sell our property with only the photocopy of the certificate on hand? Can a replacement copy be secured?

Fortunately, the laws, memoranda, circulars, rules and regulations governing such replacement are clearly laid out and codified.

Without either the original certificate of title at the Registry of Deeds or the owner’s duplicate copy, we cannot usually sell our property, although in some instances, it can be done.

Buyers who are unaware of the property registration procedures can still be persuaded to part with their money and buy the property.

However, after the money is handed over to the seller, it is likely that the buyer would encounter some problems relating to the transfer and registration of the title in the name of the new owner.

In the Philippines, lost or destroyed certificates are replaced through the process of Reconstitution. It involves the restoration of certificates of title and accomplished through administrative or judicial means.

Administrative Reconstitution

Republic Act No. 6732 or “An Act Allowing Administrative Reconstitution of Original Certificates of Titles Lost or Destroyed Due to Fire, Flood and Other Force Majeure, Amending for the Purpose Section 110 of Presidential Decree No. 1529 [Property Registration Decree] and Section 5 of Republic Act No. 26” governs the reconstitution under the above circumstances.

This reconstitution procedure was used when a 1988 fire razed the Quezon City Hall including the office of the Registry of Deeds (RD) therein. This procedure was availed of because of the sheer number of destroyed original certificates of title.

Persons affected by the loss are required to file a petition with the RD where the property is located. The petition is undertaken by the property owner or through his duly authorized representative. The petition should indicate the owner’s name and circumstances, interest on the property and vital information like certificate of title number and other details.

To support the petition, additional requirements such as the owner’s duplicate copy should be provided, along with certification that the real estate property tax is updated and is not the subject of any investigation, claim, litigation, etc.

Upon acceptance of such petition, it will go through a review process before the petition will be acted upon.

Should the petition be approved, a new copy of both the original title, as well as the owner’s duplicate copy will be prepared and issued.

Judicial Reconstitution

Pursuant to Republic Act No. 26 or “An Act Providing a Special Procedure for The Reconstitution of Torrents Certificate of Title Lost or Destroyed,” an affected property owner is required to file a petition with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) where the property is located, if it is the owner’s duplicate copy of the certificate of title that is lost. The petition should be made by the owner or his duly authorized representative. After receipt of such petition, the RTC is required to issue a notice of hearing for various parties to appear before the court, for the purpose of supporting or objecting the petitioner’s request.

In as much as the court needs to ascertain that the petitioner is the lawful owner of the property, a judicial notice shall be issued and should state, among others, the names of the purported owner, current occupants or possessor of the property, neighboring and other possible interested parties, and description of the property (location, size, boundaries, etc.).

To ensure that a large group of people know about the petition, the judge will require the posting of such petition/notice on a conspicuous place in a government building, have the petition published in the Official Gazette, in a newspaper of general circulation, and require that copies of the notice be sent to specific persons identified above. Failure to comply with these procedural requirements could potentially render the reconstitution proceeding invalid.

Should the petition be granted after hearings and presentation/review of pieces of evidence that could take months, the court will mandate the Registry of Deeds to implement the order of reconstitution and issue in favor of the petitioner a new owner’s duplicate copy.

Caveat and Current Initiative

Despite extreme care and due diligence, not all reconstitutions end up as originally intended. Unscrupulous parties, albeit limited, have reconstituted titles in their favor to the disadvantage of government and property owners.

The Land Registration Authority (LRA), the agency that oversees the Registries of Deeds, invested time and effort to ensure that the country’s titling system is accurate and complete. To ensure that titles are safeguarded, the LRA embarked on a ‘Voluntary Title Standardization Program’ wherein manually-issued titles can now be upgraded to electronic title (e-title).

As these are kept in the agency’s database system, fears of losing these copies will be reduced, if not totally eliminated over time.

Based on the LRA’s disclosure on their website, approximately 4.7 million titles or roughly 28.5 percent had been converted, but 12 million more titles need to be upgraded.

Property owners, let us support this government initiative so we can have peace of mind!

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Henry L. Yap is an Architect, Environmental Planner, Real Estate Practitioner and former Professorial Lecturer.