Land Titles

What kind of a Land Titles registration system do we have in Alberta?

The land titles system that is used in Alberta is called the Torrens system.  It was created by Robert Torrens, an Australian, in the 1850s, and is based on the shipping registry.  He observed that the registration of ocean-going vessels was accurate and complete, while land registration was chaotic, so he set about creating a new system.  It was first used in Canada in the then-colony of Vancouver Island in 1861. The Torrens land system has been used in Alberta since 1887.

Last updated: October 2015

Do other provinces use the Torrens system?

Yes, this system is also used in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and some parts of Ontario.

Last updated: October 2015

Is the Torrens system the law in Alberta?

Yes, the Torrens system operates under the authority of the Land Titles Act, a provincial law. It states that the Government of Alberta has custody of all original titles, documents, and plans and has the legal responsibility for the validity and security of all registered land titles information. The Government guarantees the accuracy of all titles, and in order to do this, operates an Assurance Fund to compensate anyone who suffers a loss due to an error on title or a fraudulent transaction.

Last updated: October 2015

How does the Torrens system work?

The Torrens Land system is based on three principles, with colourful names for such a dry area of law:

  • the Mirror Principle,
  • the Curtain Principle, and
  • the Insurance Principle.

Each of these principles taken together explain how this system works.

Last updated: October 2015

What does the Mirror Principle mean?

The Mirror Principle means that the title to property will reflect completely and accurately all the current facts of the title. Generally speaking, a title will show the current owner and all outstanding registered interests in the land, such as mortgages, caveats, easements and builder’s liens. The Mirror Principle is not absolute; there can be certain public rights or burdens that affect the title, such as a right to expropriation or zoning restrictions that may not be shown on title.

Last updated: October 2015

What is the Curtain Principle?

The Curtain Principle means that the current certificate of title contains all of the information about the title and it is not necessary for an interested person such as a potential buyer to worry about any past dealings with the property. This does away with the need to search back through the history of a property to be sure that the present owner is the valid owner of the present title. It is possible, however, if you are curious, to ask for a historical search if you want to know who owned the property in the past.

Last updated: October 2015

What is the Insurance Principle?

The Insurance Principle means that an insurance fund is in place to compensate anyone who suffers a loss as a result of a mistake being made about the validity or accuracy of a title. The idea behind the Torrens systems is that the land titles registry must guarantee the accuracy of every title to land, so that if an error occurs, there will be compensation available.

Last updated: October 2015

So, if I have title to the land that my house sits on, does that mean that I have total ownership of that piece of the planet?

Actually, no one except the Crown has absolute ownership of land. The nearest thing to absolute ownership that you can have is called an “estate in fee simple”. This means that your rights to your land are subject only to restrictions for the greater good of the municipality, province or country, for example, expropriation of private property to build a new road.

Last updated: October 2015

What exactly do I own when I own my land?

The word “land” usually means the surface of the earth. You own not only the surface of your land but also the air space above it (subject to the rights of others such as airlines) and any sand, gravel, peat and clay that can be excavated by surface operations. In the past, legal title might also have included mineral ownership, but most titles in Alberta are now separated into surface only titles and minerals only titles. This is necessary because of another interesting principle: the “Heaven to Hell” concept.

Last updated: October 2015

What is the” Heaven to Hell” concept?

The legal definition of the word “land” refers to that which extends from the centre of the earth to the outer edge of the atmosphere, hence the Heaven to Hell concept. Because a great deal of Alberta’s wealth is contained in minerals, Land Titles must clearly define who owns the mineral rights to land.

Last updated: October 2015

How do I know if I own the mineral rights to my land?

Land Titles offices are required to issue mineral certificates before registering any transfer of transfers, mortgages or leases of mineral interests. A mineral certificate states exactly what minerals are owned in a specific parcel of land and by whom, on what date and what mines and minerals exactly. Most titles have now been separated into “surface only” and “minerals only” titles. If, as is likely in most cases, you have a surface only title, the legal description will be followed by a “mineral reservation”, a phrase stating “excepting thereout all mines and minerals.”

Last updated: October 2015

Where are the Land Titles offices located?

Alberta is divided into two land registration districts and there are two land titles offices, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary. The South Alberta Land Registration Office in Calgary was responsible for the land from the U.S. border to Township 34 just south of Innisfail, and the North Alberta Land Registration Office was Edmonton is responsible for land from Innisfail north to the border with the Northwest Territories, but nowadays, with a computerized system, both offices can now register land in either the north or the south of the province.

Last updated: October 2015

What documents are kept at the Land Titles offices?

The Land Titles offices keep all original titles and all original related documents. Documents are kept in both paper and computer files. There are literally millions of documents and the computerized system means that people wanting to access Land Titles files have online access. To obtain a copy of a title or document you must fill out a Land Titles search request and pay a fee for each search, which varies depending on the document requested.

Last updated: October 2015

Who uses the Land Titles system?

Any one with an interest in land in Alberta will use the system at one time or another. It is used by:

  • the federal, provincial, and municipal governments,
  • real estate companies,
  • banks,
  • lenders,
  • utility companies,
  • appraisers and assessors,
  • land surveyors,
  • oil and gas companies,
  • lawyers, and
  • individuals.

Last updated: October 2015

When I look at the title to my house, it seems to have a bunch of funny looking words and numbers that don’t bear any resemblance to my house address. What do they mean?

Your house address is a method of describing the location of your property devised by your municipality. It is quite different from the legal description of your property that is used at land titles. For land that is located in a city, town, village or acreage, the legal description is set by Plan number; Block number; and Lot number. Municipalities approve plans for the subdivision of land within their jurisdiction. This subdivision plan is reviewed by Land Titles and assigned a Plan number.

Last updated: October 2015

What about rural land? How is it described?

Rural land is described by the use of the terms Meridian, Range and Township. Land in Alberta is described as being west of the fourth, fifth or sixth meridian. These are north/south lines of longitude. The fourth meridian is the Alberta/Saskatchewan border; the fifth meridian runs through Stony Plain and Calgary; and the sixty meridian runs through DeBolt and Jasper. Between the meridians are vertical columns called ranges which are numbered from east to west of each meridian. Townships are horizontal rows crossing the meridians and ranges. The townships begin with row number one at the U.S. border and continue up to row 126 adjacent to the Northwest Territories border. Each township is approximately 9.7 square kilometers and contains 36 sections.

Last updated: October 2015

I own a condominium. Are the rules the same for me?

Units in condominiums are registered by plan number and unit number only. Condominium plans must be registered by the developer of a condominium project and are available at the Land Titles office.

Last updated: October 2015

How do I go about registering a document at the Land Titles Office?

If you wish to have a land-related document registered at the Land Titles Office you must complete a Document Registration Request form (DDR). This DDR must be submitted with the document you wish to register to ensure that all documents stay together along with your request for registration. You must also pay the registration fee at the same time. Fees may be paid by cash, cheque, credit card, or to an established account. All documents are examined in the order they are received to ensure priority of registration is maintained in case there are competing interests.

Last updated: October 2015

What happens to my documents once I submit them?

Your documents will go to the Documents Examination Section, which is staffed with land title examiners. They compare your documents to the appropriate title, then perform a legal examination to make sure that the documents are correct and in compliance with the many laws that affect land transactions. If an error is found, the examiner continues to look for other errors, so if the documents need to be returned to the customer for correction, all errors have been identified. If the documents are correct, they will be entered into the Alberta Land Titles system. After documents are registered, they are scanned so that an electronic image of a registered document is available for searching by the public through SPIN2

Last updated: October 2015

Do I have to go to a Land Titles office to order copies of documents?

No, you can order certified copies of titles and other documents through registry agents. Consult your yellow pages directory or call 310 0000 427 7013 to locate a registry agent in your area.

Last updated: October 2015



Service Alberta – Land Titles

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