August 09, 2007
How difficult is the property purchase process in Cook Island?
All land in the Cook Islands is customarily owned and is not available under freehold title. The maximum lease obtainable by a non-Cook Islander is 60 years. All lease agreements that exceed five years require approval from the Leases Approval Committee. Foreign Enterprise registration by the Development Investment Board is a pre-requisite for lease assignments to non-Cook Islanders prior to Leases Approval Committee.
The local Lands and Survey department holds a central register of land that is available for lease. Lawyers and senior bank staff, who also are aware of land that is available for lease, are normally the first port of call for potential investors requiring land for business. Surveying of boundaries is undertaken by private surveyors, of which there are 15 in the country. Surveys are normally completed within two weeks, with boundary changes updated in the GIS computer at Lands & Survey. There are two real estate businesses operating in the Cook Islands and they lease vacant blocks of land on behalf of land owners. By law all lease agreements that exceed five years require approval from the Islands’ Lease Approval Committee (LAC).
Although most activity regarding land tenure issues takes place in Land Court hearings, the court in reality serves to be a mediating body among ‘family members’ (owners). “Family meetings” are the normal way in which decisions are made concerning any changes in rights of a group’s land. "Family" is synonymous with an expanded concept of a bilateral descent group. Family’s approval must be obtained by simple majority before leases or occupation rights are confirmed by the Court and approved by the LAC.