Understanding Squatters



Sabiiti Herbert, MBA, BBA (MUK)

A little rewind on our weekend insights would drop you to an episode that talked about the backlog of cases suffocating the court rooms. Today, there are ongoing debates involving land issues across the boarders of the nation, with platforms of Justice bogged with many land cases some of which are a result of lack of knowledge about land laws. _Ssebo/Nyabo, Just imagine “land issues” as a pool of water, join me as we deliberately swim from the shallow to the deep end of the pool!_

Many a time, you may have heard a public outcry that Ugandan judges favour the landlords at the expense of the tenants, reeping the “omuntu wa wansi” of their… However, the public court through social media does not favour the landlords either. Most affected persons are the UPDF personnel, her sister security agencies and the “rich” who buy the big chunks of land. The public court always cries foul by such people yet according to the constitution of Uganda, they too have right to own land. Worse still there are many incidences of occupants (tenants) disregarding the law and basically ‘evicting’ landowners even threatening their lives. Did i say threatening? *Yes* You may be familiar with news of killing landlords or the agents that act on their behalf. Land surveyors and valuers live almost everyday tagged with risk too. Whenever they go to inspect any property, they park their bikes, cars in a strategic location for easy escape incase of any cause for alarm. And that led me here- attempting to post this insight extracted from a publication by Ministry Of Lands, Housing And Urban Development, March, 2017 under the topic- *What the Law Says On Land Evictions* for the public court (the lay folks in me and you) to understand the cause of conflicts between landlords and tenants. The judges might seem to be unfair yet they decide the cases according to the law.

The 1995 Constitution vests the land in the citizens of Uganda to hold under four tenure systems namely; Mailo (Official Mailo, Private Mailo), Freehold, Leasehold and Customary.

The registered person or customary owner of the land which they hold is known as the Landlord.

On the registered land, there may be other people occupying and utilizing the land other than the Landlord. These people are known as Tenants.

The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides for two types of tenants; a Lawful occupant and a bonafide occupant.

1. Lawful Occupant. one occupying
land by virtue of:
a) The repealed laws; (i) Busuulu and Envujjo Law of 1928; (ii) Toro Landlord and Tenant Law of 1937; (iii) Ankole Landlord and Tenant Law of 1937.
(b) A person who entered the land with the consent of the registered owner, and includes a purchaser; or
(c) A person who had occupied land as customary tenant but whose tenancy was not disclosed or compensated for by the registered owner at the time of acquiring/registered interest.

2. Bonafide Occupant. Means a person who before the coming into force of the Constitution-
(a) Had occupied and utilized or developed any land unchallenged by the registered owner or agent of the registered owner for twelve years or more before coming into force of the 1995 Constitution.
(b) Had been settled on land by the Government or an agent of the Government which may include a local authority.
For avoidance of any doubt, the law only protects lawful and bonafide occupants on registered land. The Squatter is not protected by the law.

To qualify to be a bonafide occupant, one must have settled and utilized the land unchallenged by the registered owner for twelve years or more before the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution, This is a person who settled and used the land before 8th October 1983. Any person who settled on the land after that date does not qualify to be a bonafide occupant.

The following categories of people are not protected by the law: (i) Unlawful occupants; (ii) Illegal tenants; (iii) Trespassers; (iv) Licensees (these are persons temporarily brought in by the land owners to utilize the land); (v) Lessees (these are persons with oral or written agreements with the land owners to temporarily occupy or use the land) for specific period of time on given terms and conditions; (vi) People renting agricultural land; and (vii) People renting premises.

Where someone does not quality as Bonafide Occupant, the law provides that the person takes reasonable steps to look for the land owner and undertake negotiations with the owner concerning his or her occupancy on the land.

So the next time you want to purchase or mortgage untitled land, please be sure to seek, probe & scratch beyond just the surface to find out whether the piece of land you are interested in is under the category of either a lawful occupant or a bonafide occupant. short of which you could sadly be the next victim of “purchased air” as goes a common phrase around town or a candidate of stress trying to chase the demons you could have avoided in the first place

Wishing you a prosperous new month.

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