Contact person for provided information:

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Tryggvi Már Ingvarsson
Manager, Geoinformation department
Registers Iceland
Hafnarstræti 105, 600 Akureyri, Iceland

Inga Elísabet Vésteinsdóttir
Geographer, Geoinformation department
Registers Iceland
Hafnarstræti 105, 600 Akureyri, Iceland

Hjörtur Grétarsson
Director of Property Registration
Registers Iceland
Borgartún 21, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland

Part 1: Country Report

A. Country Context

A.1 Geographical Context

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Iceland is a large volcanic island in northwest-Europe. With the Mid-Atlantic ridge running through the island from south to north, the island’s surface of 102.700 km2 is divided somewhat evenly between the diverging North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Since first emerging from the sea, Iceland’s dynamic landscape is constantly being shaped and reshaped by the two extremes of fire and ice. Glacial landforms are to be seen all across the island, both as a result of a complete coverage during last glaciation and, more recently, due to the forces of numerous glaciers still thriving in the island’s highland, with Vatnajökull glacier ­­counting for the largest glacier in Europe. 12% of the landmass is covered by glaciers now and about 75% of the island is in an altitude of 200m or higher. Never the less, 63% is in the form of moors and highlands which leaves only 12% as mountainous areas, with or without glaciers. The highest mountain only peaks up to 2.110m. Most of the elevation occurs only a few hundred meters inland. The highland could be looked at as a big shield with a few peaks rising to the skies, mostly active or sleeping volcanoes. An exception is the south shore with vast black sand as far as the eye can gaze. Very small part of the island is vegetated, only 23%, and forests are a rare sight.

Approximately 330 thousand people live in Iceland. That makes up for population density of 3.2 persons per km2 – Europe´s lowest. Majority of the inhabitants lives in the southwest within reach (<60km) of the capital city Reykjavík. The population in this area counts for approximately 75% of total population of Iceland. 2011 census data states 93.5% of the population in urban setting.

By comparing network surveys from the years 1993 and 2004 shows clear tectonic movements. The North-American plate is moving northwest while the Eurasian plate is moving northeast. In total the horizontal east-west movement is around 2 cm per year. The red areas indicate volcanic activity (Source:

A.2 Historical Context

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

The history of Iceland is short compared to many other countries of the world. Due to the remoteness of the island, it was unpopulated until the late 9th century when the first Vikings made their way over the ocean, at least according to the Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók). However, numerous artifacts, archaeological findings and myths suggest Celtic settlement long before that.

874 is the year Icelanders celebrate as the year of the first settlement. The sagas tell us that the island was fully populated in the next six decades. The book of settlement (Landnámabók) mentions 437 head settlers, there off 54 women. In the year 930 the Icelandic parliament "Alþingi" was established and marked the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth (Þjóðveldið Ísland) which lasted until 1262 when Alþingi agreed the pledge of fealty to the Norwegian king. This era counts for Iceland’s ‘golden age’; peaceful Christianization in the year of 1000; the writing of the sagas, and; the age of the Sturlungs.

Iceland obeyed the Norwegian crown and followed the crown as it was passed to the Kalmar Union in 1397. After the collapse of the Union in 1523, Iceland was a part of a Danish-Norwegian crown and later on the Danish crown, where it remained up till it’s independence in 1944. Even though the country belonged to a different crown, the national parliament Alþingi was active the whole time, with the exception of 1799-1844.

The years from settlement up till 1800 were characterized by poverty, increasing class division and an increasing power of Church. Famines caused by volcanic eruptions and epidemics drew blood, and trade barriers made life hard on the island. Whenever the total population approached 50.000 a catastrophe of some sort was sure to pull the numbers down again.

The 19th century is remembered as the time of the fight for independence - not with weapons - but with words and being stubborn. Iceland rejected an offer to gain a colonial status within the Danish monarch and further restored Alþingi in 1845. In 1874 the Icelandic people received their own received constitution as a 1000 year settlement anniversary present from the Danish monarch. In 1918 Iceland gained sovereignty and 25 years later full independence in the year of 1944.

Painting by Johan Peter Raadsig of Ingólfur Arnarson and Hallveig Fróðadóttir, the first settlers in Iceland, erecting the high seat pillars on their new land, Reykjavík.

A.3 Current Political and Administrative Structures

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Iceland is not a member of the EU but is a member of the EEA and part of the Schengen agreement. It has no armed forces but is a member of NATO. American forces were stationed in Iceland continuously since WWII until September 2006.

Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. The parliament Alþingi is located in the capital Reykjavík and has 63 members, elected for a term of four years. The president is elected by popular vote, also for a term of four years.

There are two administrative levels found in Iceland, national and municipal. Now there are 74 municipalities in Iceland of all sizes and shapes. The 10 most populated have almost 80% of the total population in Iceland. The 10 least populated account for only 0.25% of the total population, or a sum of 865 inhabitants.

Iceland is sparcely populated country with the highest population density in the southwest (Map made by Registers Iceland 11/11/2015).

A.4 Historical Outline of Cadastral System

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

The tradition of land recording is old in Iceland and can be traced as far back as to the period when the country was initially settled in late 9th century. Well known is the ‘Book of settlement’ published in the early 12th century that describes the initial delimitation of land ownership in Iceland. In fact location of legal boundaris in rural Iceland is still largely based on this book (at least theoretically).

Formal registration of rights to land started in 1096 with the tithe laws promoted by Bishop Gissur Ísleifsson. These laws needed public inventory for property and land valuation as the tax was calculated from both moveable and immovable properties values. The procedures of land registration developed and matured next centuries with the registry maintained mainly by representatives of local parishes.

The emphasis have through the centuries all been on land registration, answering questions like "who" owns (name of farmland) "what" while the question "what" does he geographically own and "how much" has been left almost unanswered. I.e. cadastral mapping was non-existing until the late 20th century.

The first coherant attempts to geographically delimtate land were made by laws in 1880 that stipulated every land owner to describe the extent of his land ownership with words - so called boundary description - referring place names and natural features:

Corner monument: The ruin close to Heiðrimakelda-spring, south of Oddholtsmúla-mound; from where there is a line of sight, west to Héðinslækjabotnar-hollow, from here the boundary follows Héðinslækur-creek, and then Höskuldslækur-creek to the Hvítá-river.  To east of the above mentioned ruin close to Heiðrimakelda-spring the boundaries run south to Þverkelda-spring which runs from Galtatjörn-pond … (Boundary description of Arnarbæli, Grímsnes, National Archives of Iceland, 1884).

This law was revised in 1919 almost unchanged and has governed how legal boundaries are located in rural areas. However law on land surveying and cadastral registration in Reykjavík citry were set in 1914 and identical law in Akureyri city in 1951. These law enforced the implementation of cadastral system in these two largest cities in Iceland at the time. Later in 1998, new planning and building law were set that in fact enforced every municipality to maintan cadastral registration of lands and lots within their juridiction.

Revised planning law came into effect 1st of January 2011 stating that Registers Iceland were responsible for maintaining a cadastral map (landeignaskrá) for whole Iceland, replacing the earlier role of the municipalities.

The Book of settlement describes over 400 settlers that came over the ocean from various parts of northern-Europe, most notable Scandinavia and the British Isles.

B. Institutional Framework

B.1 Government Organizations

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Registers Iceland, under the jurisdiction of ministry of the interior, is responsible for operating the land and cadastral registration as part of the RealProperty Database in cooperation with associated authority:

  • Land register officers register within the land registry section (Þinglýsingarhluti)
  • Municipalities register within the cadstral section (Stofnhluti og Landeignaskrá)

In general Registers Iceland registers a range of information on Iceland's residents and real properties, and provides related services such as assessment, allowing electronic access to the registers and issuing certificates, passports, ID cards and the electronic ID: "Icekey". Registers Iceland is also responsible for the operation and development of the national portal prices and methods of payment from every sale contract are collected into the Land Registry Database and used for the calculation of economic indicators, such as the real estate price index.

B.2 Private Sector Involvement

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Given the resources currently available, close cooperation with the private sector is regarded as the most efficient way in which to carry out cadastral survey in Iceland. Registers Iceland, along with individual municipalities, have in recent years cooperated closely with private sector companies in generating the base cadastral data required for creating a spatial Cadastre and developing tools and interfaces for accessing these data.

Most municipalities buy most of the survey work, design and map making of off private engineering- and or architectural companies. Hence, a big part of spatial cadastral data assembled by Registers Iceland is originated in the private sector.

B.3 Professional Organization or Association

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

There is currently no professional organization or association for cadastral surveyors in Iceland.

B.4 Licensing

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

There is currently no licensing system for cadastral surveying professionals, or any surveying professional for that matter. 'Cadastral surveyor' is not even a registered profession in Iceland. Surveying is carried out by a diverse range of people, some working for engineering- or design companies and some working for the government or municipalities. There are some individual private 'surveyors' active, despite the lack of available certificate of qualification. There are at present no requirements imposed upon how cadastral surveys are undertaken. 

B.5 Education

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

There is no formal cadastral surveying education available in the Icelandic school system, except for basic introduction of survey methodology as a part of other courses at two of our Universities' departments of natural science and engineering.

Educated surveyors in the country are mostly educated in countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Germany.

C. Cadastral System

C.1 Purpose of Cadastral System

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Icelandic cadastral information have a legal role in the land market, a fiscal role in land evaluation and taxation - which is based on the evaluation - as well as being used for regional planning. The need for a uniform multi-purpose cadastre that covers the whole of the country is ever increasing, alongside a rising demand for digital cadastral information in plannig, land management and such. It is important that rural areas become more integral part of the cadastral system, as we dont have good enough base data for land evaluation in rural areas as it is. When we have good enough data, the fiscal role of the system will increase.  

C.2 Types of Cadastral System

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

There is one uniform cadastral system for the whole country operated by the Registers Iceland and maintained by municipalities.

Most larger municipalities have good quality cadastral map of their urban areas but information on boundaries in rural Iceland are far from being complete.

Infomal or illegal settlements have not caused any real problem to this day.


C.3 Cadastral Concept

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

There is no specific law covering cadastral registration in Iceland but the concept is partly covered within the law on real property registration and valuation.

Work is in process to make cadastral amendment to current law environment. These amendments will reflect recent development in cadastral registration within Registers Iceland which was assigned to the role with new planning law 1st of January 2011.

The model is as follows:

  • A real property object is the center of attention within the land registry (connecting it to owners) and within the cadastral (type, planned use, registered area, surveyed boundaries etc.)
  • A real property is connected to at least one land object. A condominium  is when more than one real property object is related to a land object.
  • Land object can consist of one or more cadastral parcels, either fully owned by the land object in question or in joint ownership with other nearby land objects within the same municipality. A land object is either regarded as having 'complete' extent mapped or 'incomplete' - based on association to mapped cadastral parcels.
  • Cadastral parcel is delimited with cadastral boundaries. The parcel is either regarded as 'complete' or 'incomplete' - refering if its potential inner boundaries/islands are completely mapped.
  • Cadastral boundary consist of two boundary nodes (start/end), unlimited number of intermediate survey points and is related to exactly two cadastral parcels. Cadastral boundary is regarded as general, fixed or dynamic/fuzzy.
  • Boundary node is related to exactly one survey point. Boundary node can be regarded as general, fixed or dynamic/fuzzy.
  • Survey point originates in one specific survey document that can include unlimited amount of surveys and survey points.

C.4 Content of Cadastral System

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

In total around 194.875 real properties are registered within the real property database (RI, November 2015). 

There are 106.180 land objects registered (RI, September 2016), 87.345 can also be regarded as real property (1:1 relationship) while 18.399 are part of a condominium (1:M) (RI, november 2015)

Approximately 30,1% land objects are delimitated within the cadastral map while 92,5% can be located with a point promised to be within one of its parcels (RI, October 2016).

Cadastral documents are kept locally by either municipality or/and land registry office. Documents that include subdivision or merger of already defined land objects are kept by municipalities, while legal documents that need owner signature (e.g. boundary descriptions, boundary map etc.) are kept at land registry offices.


D. Cadastral Mapping

D.1 Cadastral Map

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

An official cadastral index map is now available for whole Iceland, containing mapped cadastral parcels by Registers Ieland. The same data can be downloaded free of charge at The same data is also accessible through ELF services.

Still one has to find original cadastral survey document to get information of the formal extent of specific land object.

Registers Iceland published in 2015 guidelines to standardise the content of cadastral survey documents. 

Online cadastral map, beta version, is now available at

D.2 Example of a Cadastral Map

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Cadastral map for subdivision of Fagraland in Hegranes, Skagafjörður.

D.3 Role of Cadastral Layer in SDI

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

The cadastral map data was published freely available as an open source data in the spring 2016. It can both be displayed and downloaded at Registers Iceland website:


E. Reform Issues

E.1 Cadastral Issues

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

  1. Reform on legislation and regulation. No cadastral law is in place in Iceland. There is urgent need for legal amendments to support further activities in surveying and registration of cadastral boundaries.​ [2016: we have been in contact with the ministry but no news yet of possible law amendments.]
  2. Cadastral mapping – collecting boundary data. Several municipalities have collected cadastral boundaries within their LADM that has not yet been included in the cadastral map maintained by Registers Iceland. In total this could amount for 30-40 thousand parcels. [2016: We have collected the extent of approximately 20.000 parcels in cooperation with three municipalities. Work is still ongoing and will hopefully be completed in 2017.]
  3. Data sharing – distribution of cadastral data. Currently there is no cadastral data layer part of the SDI. The cadastral map maintained by Registers Iceland is not freely available and not known by many. [2016: issue resolved by defining the cadastral map as open source data, now accessible and downloadable at Registers Iceland webpage. The data is also provided as part of the ELF project.] 

E.2 Current Initiatives

Last modified on 26-Jan-2016

At present we are working on points 1 and 2 mentioned above - thus collecting cadastral data from municipalities and putting pressure on our ministry for law amendments regarding cadastral work.


F. References

Last modified on 23-Oct-2016

Network survey comparison. Landmælingar Íslands.


Part 2: Cadastral Principles and Statistics

1. Cadastral Principles

Last modified on 11-Nov-2015

1.1 Type of registration system

title registration
deeds registration

1.2 Legal requirement for registration of land ownership


1.4 Approach for establishment of cadastral records

both, systematic and sporadic
all properties already registered

2. Cadastral Statistics

Last modified on 31-Oct-2016

2.1 Population


2.2a Population distribution: percentage of population living in urban areas


2.2b Population distribution: percentage of population living in rural areas


2.3 Number of land parcels

--- Number of land parcels per 1 million population

2.4 Number of registered strata titles/condominium units

--- Number of strata titles/condominium units per 1 million population

2.5 Legal status of land parcels in URBAN areas:

percentage of parcels that are properly registered and surveyed
percentage of parcels that are legally occupied, but not registered or surveyed
percentage of parcels that are informally occupied without legal title

2.6 Legal status of land parcels in RURAL areas:

percentage of parcels that are properly registered and surveyed
percentage of parcels that are legally occupied, but not registered or surveyed
percentage of parcels that are informally occupied without legal title

2.7 Number of active professional land surveyors


2.8 Proportion of time that active professional land surveyors commit for cadastral matters (%)

--- Approx. full-time equivalent of land surveyors committed to cadastral matters

2.9 Number of active lawyers/solicitors


2.10 Proportion of time that active lawyers/solicitors commit for cadastral matters (%)

--- Approx. full-time equivalent of active lawyers/solicitors committed to cadastral matters