Wed | Jun 19, 2024

Shattered dream

Ja-born US soldier’s case among near dozen lawsuits involving multiple people claiming ownership of single lots on HAJ lands

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2024 | 12:11 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter
Andrew A Bromfield and Associates’ surveyor’s report.
Lofters and Associates’ surveyor’s report.
Jeffrey James, who is a member of the United States military, was born in Jamaica before his family migrated to North America when he was 12 years old.

Eleven years ago, Jeffrey James found out through a relative that a government-owned company was selling lands in the resort town of Negril, Westmoreland, and he immediately sprang into action.

James, who is a member of the United States (US) military, was born in Jamaica before his family migrated to North America when he was 12 years old.

A 2013 visit to the Whitehall Phase Three subdivision, which was put up for sale by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), convinced him to fork out $3.4 million for a “near three-acre” lot, he revealed.

“This was my very first piece of land, and my intention was to build my dream retirement home there,” James recounted as he spoke with The Sunday Gleaner last Monday.

A surveyor’s report, provided by the HAJ when the transaction was completed in December 2014, confirmed what he had seen during several subsequent visits: that the land was free and clear.

A surveyor’s identification report is a document that provides details of a site visit by a commissioned land survey comparing what they see on the ground to what is indicated in the registration documents, according to the Land Surveyors Association of Jamaica.

“I have checked the above-mentioned property and certify that … (vi) there are no buildings on the land”, stated the report, dated April 24, 2013, and which was done by Lofters & Associates, a firm of commissioned land surveyors.

The Lofters report also certified that “the restrictive Covenants 1 – 13 as endorsed in the certificate of title were checked”.

“All have been complied with,” stated the report, seen by The Sunday Gleaner.

However, in 2021, after he hired a contractor to clear the land to commence construction, James said he made a surprising discovery: there are three buildings “in the middle” of his lot, one of which was in breach of the restrictive covenants for the property.

This, he said, prompted him to hire the firm of Andrew Bromfield & Associates to conduct a second surveyor’s identification report, which confirmed that “there is a concrete building, a wooden building and a concrete building under construction and a water tank on the property”.

“The boundaries are NOT in general agreement with the plan attached to the aforementioned certificate of title. Restrictive Covenants 1 – 13 as endorsed on the aforementioned certificate of title were checked. All are in order except for Covenant 10, which is in breach,” said the March 26, 2021, Bromfield report, also seen by The Sunday Gleaner.

Buildings are occupied

Worse yet, the buildings are occupied by a family that is also claiming ownership of the property.

A search of the official records at the National Land Agency listed James and his cousin, Kevin Davis, as the sole owners of the property.

James believes that he was shown the wrong lot of land during his 2013 visit to the Whitehall Phase Three subdivision.

“I believe it was just a blatant error by them, whoever it was, that, you know, was chopping up lands. They did not go out and physically do their assessment of that land,” James charged.

The HAJ did not respond to questions submitted by The Sunday Gleaner last Tuesday seeking an explanation for the mix-up.

“No approval has been given to provide the information,” Public Relations Manager Simone Ormsby said through an intermediary on Friday.

Jerome Lofters, whose firm conducted the first surveyor’s report, said: “I have no comment until I am able to carry out my own investigation.”

However, the problem of multiple people claiming ownership of a single lot is a common complaint across a number of HAJ subdivisions sold to mainly “poor, struggling Jamaicans”, according to one industry insider.

Mount Edgecombe, Belair, Shaw Park, and Mammee Bay in St Ann as well as Barrett Hall in St James are among the subdivisions cited as examples.

The complaints have resulted in nearly a dozen lawsuits against the government-owned agency in recent years by purchasers who are in a similar position as James, according to legal sources.

Some of the cases have since been settled out of court either by refunds or substituted lots, but at least two are still before the Supreme Court.

Property that

does not exist

One of the lawsuits still pending was filed by a woman who claims that HAJ sold her a property that does not exist, one attorney revealed.

According to the attorney, the lawsuit alleges that at the time the land was sold to the woman and her son, it was already allotted to someone else who had constructed a house they now occupied on the same property.

“These are struggling, working-class people who this would be their first acquisition, their first attempt at owning property, and having struggled to acquire it, they are going to have to fight with somebody else over it or be out of pocket,” said the insider, echoing the plight of some purchasers.

“Unfortunately, this has happened too often. They have a tendency to just leave poor people hanging to fight among themselves,” the insider charged.

Pearlene Bailey, an attorney who has represented several purchasers in lawsuits against the HAJ, declined to give a detailed comment on the issue, saying only that “this is something that happens from time to time”.

Donnovan Collins, an attorney hired by James, told The Sunday Gleaner that he now has instructions to file a lawsuit against the HAJ.

“And we intend to do so unless the Housing Agency of Jamaica can swiftly resolve this matter.”

Collins disclosed that an application for recovery of possession of the property was filed in the parish court in Westmoreland because he thought that was the correct approach - to have the family occupying the land removed.

“But after doing our investigation, we discovered that these people could have been on this property for decades,” the attorney said in obvious reference to the adverse- possession route to home ownership.

That application, he said, has since been abandoned because there are doubts about whether the application would be successful “if it is that they [the family] have been there for over 60 years”.

“It is disheartening that Jamaicans go overseas and work very hard with the hope of one day retiring in their homeland and put their hard-earned money in the possession of a government entity only to find out that they were misled as the land, in this case, was not vacant as indicated by a surveyor’s report provided by the same entity,” he said.

The attorney claimed that the HAJ has ignored several attempts to have James’ case resolved out of court.