At the bank; in a solicitors’ strongroom; in a filing cabinet, or under the bed … where are yours, and what do they mean?!
A bundle of title deeds has historically been part and parcel of owning property. The older the property, the more weighty the bundle, as a rule. Traditionally, lawyers would hand-write long documents transferring property from one owner to the next. However, progress marches forwards and these bundles of beautifully-scripted vellum are, some would say sadly, a thing of the past. How does this affect you, and what do you need to know?
Historically, the physical bundle of deeds and documents proved who owned property or land. When lenders lent money secured on a property, they would usually demand the deeds be surrendered to them for the duration of the loan for safekeeping.
Over the years, land ownership in England and Wales had become increasingly complicated, with no central register. The potential for fraud was huge, particularly if deeds had been stolen or misplaced. Indeed, in the 17th Century, the 25-verse poem “A Plain Dealer’s Prayer for a Registry” was penned:
“This is the judgment of sober men
Will be this long desired Registry
Upon whose fond none can be cheated when
They trade or trust on that security
Which if it pass as it is now fitted
The just are double blessed, the knaves outwitted.”
The first concerted efforts to establish a central register of titles in land finally came about with the Royal Commission on Registration of Title (1857). However, very few titles ended up being registered, and the Land Transfer Act of 1875 sought to remedy this. The Land Registration Act and the Law of Property Act 1925 began the real heavy lifting of beginning title registration, setting out compulsory dates by which various dealings in land must begin to be registered at HM Land Registry. This was rolled out on an area by area basis.
The last few areas of the UK were brought into compulsory registration in the 1990s, and, since then, most dealings in land have had to be registered at Land Registry.
If you own or have inherited an old property which has not changed hands, or been mortgaged for many years, it may be that the land or property is not registered at Land Registry. In this case, the land is called “Unregistered Land”, and it will be necessary to prove your title to the land through the bundle of deeds. The importance of title deeds in these situations cannot be underestimated. Without them, it will be very difficult to prove ownership of or deal with the property. In these situations, we recommend placing the Title Deeds in a solicitors’ strongroom, or in a safety deposit box. Whilst it is possible to “reconstitute” the title after deeds have been lost, the owner will likely acquire only “possessory title”, which can be subject to challenge. It is possible to voluntarily register the title, and we would recommend doing so in order to ensure the title is in safely in order and avoid potential delays when you come to sell in future.
Title to unregistered land is deduced by establishing a “root of title”. This is basically finding a document of sufficient age (such as a mortgage, transfer, or conveyance) to use to begin to set out an unbroken chain of ownership which ends with the current owner.
Registered land is more simple. Once land has been registered, the state guarantees that the legal estate is vested in the current owner. All the information that would have been contained in the bundle of deeds and documents is instead contained in three registers, which form the registered title.
A: The Property Register
This gives a description of the property (usually its postal address for residential properties), together with the date the property was first registered, and any rights the property has the benefit of, such as rights of way. If the property is Leasehold, it will also contain the date, parties to, and length of the Lease.
B: The Proprietorship Register
This shows the name and address of the current owner, when they brought the property, and (if it has changed hands since April 2000) it will also include the price it last changed hands for. It will also contain any restrictions which limit the power of the owner. For example, it commonly states that a further loan may not be secured on the property without an existing lender’s consent. It also crucially states the ‘class’ of the Title. This is the level of guarantee to the title which the Land Registry is happy to provide based on evidence they have seen. The best class of title is “Absolute Title”.
C: The Charges Register
The Charges Register includes details of any charges on the Property. Most commonly, this is where details of a lender who has a loan secured on the Property will be mentioned. It will also show other interests or rights which limit how the land can be used, for example covenants, rights of way for others, and leases. Often, these details may be marked as being contained in more detail in a separate document such as a historic Transfer Deed. In these situations, the registers often state that there is a copy filed at Land Registry which you can obtain.
There are many benefits to title registration. All information is held centrally and can usually be downloaded in seconds; there is usually a title plan showing the boundaries of the property concerned; the State guarantees the title to the Property; and you no longer need to retain that fragile, cumbersome packet of deeds. We would, however, still recommend storing any copies of Land Registry data as you would any other sensitive data. Registration has indeed solved a lot of problems, but at the end of the day, knaves are still knaves.
Walker Solicitors is a trade name of Walker Solicitors Ltd. Registered in England (Company No: 9608224). Registered office: 206a-212 Stafford Street, Walsall WS2 8DW. A list of members is available for inspection at this office. We use the word ‘partner’ to refer to a member of the company or an employee or consultant who is a solicitor with equivalent standing and qualification.