The traditional system of conveyancing of unregistered land has been in existence for centuries, although it was overhauled by the Law Property Act 1925 (this was accompanied initially by the Land Registration Act 1925, which fully put into place the reforming system of land registration. This was continued by the Land Registration Act 2002). The whole unregistered land system relies on the existence of written documents, or deeds, to prove to a buyer a period of unchallenged ownership, which will substantiate the seller’s title. At present, statute defines a minimum period of unbroken ownership of 15 years. The inherent problem with the unregistered land system is that there is an almost total reliance on integrity of the title deeds. These are documents, which are used to convey the land and property from a seller to a buyer. If they are, either in part or in whole, lost, damaged or forged, severe problems will inevitably arise for the owner seeking to prove title.
As mentioned before, the evidence of title to unregistered land is contained in the title deeds. The seller will, therefore, have to satisfactorily demonstrate title to the land and property they are proposing to sell by supplying the buyer’s solicitors with the deeds therefore, tracing a chain of ownership through the current seller, which must stretch back at least 15 years, so that the seller can provide to the buyer a good root of title (i.e. the starting point for the period of ownership).
Of importance to any prospective buyers will be the following:
- The title deed(s), which in most cases will be a conveyance or a deed called an indenture. This document deals with and shows the ownership of the whole of the legal and equitable interest in the property and should contain adequate descriptions with regards to the property, and rights for the property (for services, water, gas electricity etc) and equivalent rights for the neighbouring/adjoining properties, include details of any mortgages, which were taken out against the property.
- An identifiable description of the property, with reference to a plan. The reference to a plan may make reference to a previously dated deed.
Further consideration would have to be given to the documents, which are provided by the seller’s solicitors. With regards to the conveyance or title deed, further investigation will have to be undertaken to demonstrate the deeds have been correctly stamped and the appropriate duty paid. Any mortgages or legal charges over the property would have to be carefully examined to ensure that there is a seal of the lender to confirm that the monies outstanding have been paid in full, as if it is not confirmed by the documentation, any application to Land Registry for first registration of the buyer would be subject to the existing lender’s charge over the property, which would cause substantial problems for the client and any lender who has assisted the purchaser with a mortgage loan over the property.
All of the previous owner(s) of the property for the period of a least of 15 years would have to have no adverse entries against their name(s) during their period of ownership, which a full search of the land charges register would reveal.
In assessing the documentation received from the seller’s solicitors, the buyer’s solicitors will have to satisfy themselves that there is an unbroken chain of ownership in the documentation provided and there are no apparent gaps in the title deeds relating to the owner/owners of the property for at least 15 years in order for a buyer to receive a good root of title.
Once the initial investigation of the title had been carried out and the documentation and replies to any enquiries raised are satisfactory on the application to Land Registry for first registration, the objective is to achieve absolute title being granted to the new purchasers by the Land Registry, which is the best class of title available, as if the result of the application for first registration does not result in absolute title, it is likely that along the investigation process an important element in assessing the title deeds was not fully appreciated or considered and this could lead to serious consequences for the buyer and/or their lender and the conveyancer.
Once the application for first registration has been completed, the property will then be assigned a title number and will become part of the registered land process, which applies to the vast majority of land in England & Wales and has the backing of the state and has the certainty that during the application process all of the documentation provided was in order for the grant of the new title for the property.
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If you would like us to act on behalf of your sale or purchase, please call our conveyancing team based in Reading on 0118 958 9711. Alternatively, you can obtain an estimate using our free conveyancing estimator.