Land registration has been perceived as a precondition for secure property rights and agricultural development. Yet land registration has often failed to achieve its presumed benefits. This article explores the relationship between land registration, tenure security, and agricultural development in the context of post-socialist transformations. It focuses on one key difference between socialist property and the notions underlying post-socialist land laws: socialist property law accommodated the existence of multiple layers of social control over land whereas post-socialist land legislation promotes exclusive land rights. Post-socialist land rights are exclusive in the sense that the new laws do not recognize any intermediate layers of control between the landholder and the state. The paper draws on a case study of land registration in a commune in north-western Vietnam. The research included semi-structured interviews with 65 randomly selected households and informal conversations during extended stays in the commune as well as the collection of government statistics and interpretation of SPOT images. Its results demonstrate that villagers opposed land registration and refused to comply with its rules, although registration would have strengthened villagers’ legal rights to land. The villagers resisted land registration because the new land rights conflicted with their actual land relations, which included more layers of social control than land registration could accommodate. At the same time, although land registration failed to take effect in the villages, agricultural output expanded and the forest regenerated. The findings therefore suggest the need for adjusting land registration to accommodate intermediate layers of control over land where land claims are not as exclusive as assumed by the existing legislation.