Real Estate Law in Ghana

August 25, 2020

Ghanaian real estate law combines common and customary law concepts. The vast majority of land in Ghana is still communally owned by stools (stools indicate status, power and succession of chiefs and kings), but a significant amount of land was compulsorily acquired by the state in the colonial and post-colonial era, and some lands are owned by natural persons.

The highest interest in land under Ghanaian land law is the allodial interest. This interest, derived from customary law, is absolute and paramount over all other interests in land, and although it is theoretically capable of being held by an individual, it is typically held by a stool, a family or by the state. Title in such lands is usually held by the chief of the stool in trust for the stool or by the family head in trust for the extended family. The allodial holder's rights exclude certain rights that are vested in the president such as the right to exploit rocks, minerals, ores and fossil fuels found in, under or upon the land.

The second highest interest in land is the freehold. The law recognises both common-law and customary law freeholds. The common-law freehold is the most common form of freehold interest in Ghana outside of the rural areas. As is the case in most common-law jurisdictions, the owner of the freehold may exercise most of the rights of ownership over the land for an indefinite period, excluding the rights indicated above in relation to rocks, minerals, ores and fossil fuels. The customary freehold historically acquired by a member of a community through exercising acts of ownership over vacant communal land still exists but is not that common, and although it may be conveyed for value, the acquirer of the land acquires a common-law freehold interest, not a customary freehold.

Leasehold interests predominate in Ghana. Leaseholds may be held individually or communally and by both natural and legal persons. The tenor of leasehold interests that may be conveyed is restricted to 99 years for Ghanaian citizens and 50 years for non-citizens.3 As such, foreigners and legal entities, even Ghanaian-registered or wholly owned entities (as citizenship is not conferred upon legal entities) are only legally entitled to leases of up to 50 years. Most leases are common-law leases that entitle the holder to exercise most of the rights of ownership over the land for a defined term, subject to the leaseholder acknowledging the superior title of allodial or freehold title holder. Lesser common law interests in land such as easements and licences are also recognised under the law, as are customary law arrangements such as sharecropping rights.

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