Those who have had unregistered land in the family for generations may wonder what the point is of registering it, but potential problems can crop up in future, especially if you decide to sell. Julie Liddle looks at the key issues.
Registered or unregistered land?
As the name suggests unregistered land is that which has not been registered with HM Land Registry. In the farming industry, this often happens when land has been in the same family for several generations, or when parcels of farmland have been traded years ago without being documented.
In such circumstances, the landowner would need to produce historical title deeds to prove their ownership. This can be problematic if the deeds have been accidentally destroyed or their location is unknown. For example, they may be with the owner’s belongings, or with a solicitor or mortgage lender.
With registered land, the Land Registry can check the ownership and title by looking at the historic title deeds from when the land was first registered with them. Once registered, each parcel of land is given its own unique title, reference and plan and this information is stored electronically. The physical deed document is then usually destroyed.
Since 1990, it has been compulsory when buying or remortgaging unregistered land to apply to have the land registered within two months of the sale completing. But, as we know in the farming world, many land transactions predate this.
The advantages of registered land
Protection against lost deeds
It is not uncommon for unregistered title deeds to be lost or destroyed. If this happens it becomes difficult to prove ownership without the painstaking process of gathering evidence of your ownership. While a family that has owned the land for many decades may think this process to be relatively straightforward, it isn’t always so. A statutory declaration often needs to be made alongside the application to register title to explain how the deeds became lost.
Achieving a quicker property sale
Even in instances where the original title deeds are in your possession, these lengthy and often fragile handwritten documents can be difficult to read and interpret. In a sale situation, this could significantly delay the drafting of contracts and slow down the conveyancing process. By voluntarily registering the title deeds with HM Land Registry, the increased time and cost of reviewing and interpreting old deeds can be removed.
Reducing the risk of fraud
A registered landowner is better protected against potential property fraud, where fraudsters attempt to assume your identity and sell or mortgage your property without your knowledge. It also affords better protection against claims for squatter’s rights where a third-party attempts to claim title by occupying your land over a period of time without your knowledge. The reason for this is that once the title is registered, the Land Registry will notify the landowner if a third party tries to register an interest against the registered title.
Registration of land is also an opportunity to resolve any issues with rights of way or encroachment by neighbours. For example, there may have been land exchanges, such as field swaps, that have not been formally documented. Longstanding sporting rights may not have been recorded properly. There may be contention over who’s responsible for the upkeep of certain roadside grass verges and visibility splays. Often it’s the older generation in farming families who were managing the land when these informal agreements were made, so it’s often wise to seek to resolve these title queries before this knowledge is lost.
How do I register unregistered land?
We can see from the above how many potential land issues can be addressed through a first registration, leaving a clear and straightforward title for any future owner of the land.
The process of registering land isn’t particularly onerous and the fees are modest. The Land Registry also offers a 25 per cent reduction in fees for voluntary first registrations. As for accurate mapping, we undertake a great number of instructions to provide mapping to Land Registry compliant standards.
So, if you own unregistered land you should consider voluntarily applying for registration, though it’s wise to seek advice from your surveyor and solicitor first as they will be able to identify and pre-empt any potential issues.