Nova Scotia

Preston area residents getting help to clarify land titles

The provincial government is working with lawyers and surveyors to help people in the Preston area get clear ownership of the land their families have lived on for generations.

Law and land surveyor associations in Nova Scotia offering their services to residents for free

Elaine Cain's family has paid taxes on a empty lot in North Preston for years, but has never held the deed. (Courtesy of NSCC)

People who live in the Preston area, outside of Halifax, are happy the government is working to help them get clear ownership of the land their families have lived on for generations.

Elaine Cain's family has paid taxes on a empty lot in North Preston for years, but has never held the deed. Two years ago she renewed her fight to obtain the land's title. 

"It's a family homestead," said Cain. "Everyone wants something that they can call home."

Under a pilot project, the Nova Scotia is hoping to clarify who owns what land in the communities of North Preston, East Preston and Cherry Brook.

Cain is "ecstatic" she'll now be able to access free legal advice.

"It's been a long time coming and a lot of people in the community have been patient but it's been a long time," said Cain. "I think everybody will be happy that the Barrister's Society has stepped in and helped."

Cain said she plans to build a home and café on the property, fulfilling a life-long dream of hers. 

The province will work with the Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors and the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society on this project. Both groups are offering their services to residents free of charge.

A community group in the historically black community of North Preston has been pressuring the government to fix the problem with land titles.

'It's a difficult process at any time'

The Department of Natural Resources is also hiring a law student who will act as an outreach worker to help people in each community get clear title to their land.

"It's a difficult process at any time. You're talking about title searches, you're talking about working in registries and all that sort of stuff, so this individual will be doing that on behalf of the community," said Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines.

The law student is expected to start work in April.

Ownership hard to prove

The Nova Scotia Land Registry is also supporting the project and working closely with the department on the project.

Determining exactly who owns what parcels of land can be extremely difficult.

In the early 1800s, the government provided land lots in North Preston to Black Loyalists, but not legal deeds to the properties.

Through the years, many of those lands were then passed on to family members.

So far, 30 people have applied for clear land title, according to a news release from the province. 

Lawyers and surveyors offer help

Hines said he hopes this initiative clears up confusion about boundaries and land ownership.

He said when a person has clear ownership of a property, they can pass that land on to their family, put the land up as collateral for a loan and access provincial housing assistance.

"Knowing that you're in the property, living in a property, on a farm or your home that will truly be your home once you get the legal certification — I'm sure that's going to bring a great satisfaction," said Hines.

Pilot project could expand

If the pilot project is successful, Hines said the program could be adopted to other parts of the province where land titles are still in question.

"We'll see how well we get along here, see what lessons we learn and get on with straightening it out," he said.

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