Land register: ordering extracts and viewing entries
When people hear “land register”, they probably think of a huge book with a leather cover. There is actually no such thing as a central land register. Instead, there is a land register office in charge of each individual canton. In most cases, they keep a digital register that is continuously updated: there is a land register page for each of the four million properties in Switzerland which documents the ownership situation and rights to the land. For example, it provides information on whether the owners have taken out a mortgage or pledged their property and if so, when.
Principles of the land register
Although most people have never looked at the land register, the principle of public access applies: anyone who is interested can contact the land register office to inquire about the most important key data of a property. Specifically, this includes the description of the property (e.g. its size), the owners, the date of acquisition, the forms of ownership (e.g. condominium ownership) as well as easements (rights of use such as right of abode and right of way) and land charges (e.g. obligation to supply water).
For this reason, the law requires that all parties negotiating over a plot of land must be informed of the associated entries in the land register. In the event of legal disputes, this means that no one can claim to have been unaware of the facts. The land register is always right: what’s written there applies. And everyone should be aware of this information.
The principle of “positive legal force”, as it is referred to by lawyers, provides legal certainty: anyone who acquires residential property in good faith in accordance with a land register entry does not need to carry out any further clarifications regarding the ownership situation.
However, the land register also has a flip side: “negative legal force”. The right to make decisions concerning a property only exists if the information is entered accordingly in the land register. Based on this principle, the purchaser of a property only becomes its owner when the change of ownership is entered in the land register.
Each entry in the land register must be recorded in writing by the owners – in line with the application principle. For example, a purchase of land requires public certification by a notary.
Land register extracts and land register information
When information is requested from the land register, the extent of detail provided depends on the purpose of the request. Partial information is sometimes sufficient to “satisfy curiosity”. For major construction projects and before signing important contracts, it is advisable to obtain a full land register extract, which discloses all the entries relating to a property. Some business partners – especially public authorities – even require the land register entry to be certified.
Anyone can partially inspect the land register easily and free of charge. Access is available to information including:
- Designation of the land and description
- Names of the owners
- Form of ownership and date of acquisition
- Easements (e.g. rights of way, usufruct, right of abode) and land charges (e.g. obligation to supply timber, maintenance of walls)
Anyone who wishes to obtain detailed information or a full extract from the land register must assert their “legitimate interest” at the land register office. Interest is qualified as legitimate if the request is made by owners, persons with rights or creditors such as craftsmen, for example.
How to order a land register extract
Most land register offices are flexible: you can order an extract by phone, email, letter or online. The document should usually arrive by post within three days.
Verbal information is provided free of charge by the land register office. A written extract from the land register is subject to a fee. The fees vary from canton to canton. As a rule, they range between 20 and 30 francs, although the cost is as high as 45 francs in Zug. In addition, there is usually a surcharge of about 20 francs when requesting certification.
Land register offices – who is in charge?
Switzerland does not yet have a central land register – responsibility lies with the cantons (the Federal government has overall control). Some cantons get by with just one land register, while others have several regional or municipal offices. There are combined notary’s offices and land register offices in a large number of cantons. The advantage is that information can be registered at a single office and publicly certified.