The Land Register: Registered Title

The majority of land and property in England and Wales is registered at HM Land Registry. Any that is not yet registered is ‘unregistered’ land. Land registration is governed by the Land Registration Acts of 1925 and 2002. Registration gives the legal owners a state guarantee in respect of their land title.

On first registration of title, a title number is allocated by HM Land Registry.  By this title number, the land and the interests in and affecting that land are subsequently identified.

The registered title includes three parts and, importantly, a title plan of the land and/or property.

What are the three parts of the Register?

The Property Register

The Property Register describes the property with reference to its postal address, and to a filed plan of the land from the Ordinance Survey Map. This plan is part of the registered land and shows the boundaries and, usually, who is responsible for which boundary. The Property Register may also include details of any benefits attached to the land, such as any easements.

The Proprietorship Register

The Proprietorship Register identifies the class of title of the land (see below); and the name and address of all the legal owners of the land. It also shows whether there are any restrictions, for example, on the power of the owner/s to sell or mortgage the land. 

The Charges Register

The Charges Register notes any legal charges on the property. The most common legal charge is a mortgage, and any other financial charges secured against the property. The Charges Register also lists any other burdens, such as restrictive covenants, affecting the land.                                      

Compulsory First Registration

This means that when there is just about any dealing with unregistered land, registration is triggered. This means the transferee/buyer of the land must apply for first registration. There are a number of events which trigger first registration of title, including: 

  • A transfer on sale of freehold land
  • The grant of a lease of more than 7 years
  • The assignment on sale of a lease which has more than 7 years unexpired at the date of the assignment
  • The creation of a first legal mortgage of the freehold, or of a lease of more than 7 years

An application should then be made to Land Registry within 2 months of the date of the relevant ‘event’.

Voluntary registration

An individual can also apply to Land Registry to be registered as the owner of the land if: 

  • It is ‘vested’ in them (ie. a right to it), or
  • They are entitled to require the estate to be vested in them

A voluntary application in respect of a leasehold estate can only be made if the lease was granted for a term of more than 7 years, and those years are unexpired. 

What class of title can be granted?

A registered title may be Absolute, Possessory, Qualified or Good. The two most important are:

Absolute

This is the highest and best class of title, and is ‘good against the world’, with all rights and privileges attaching to that land, save for any overriding interests, or interests registered on the title.

Possessory

This is granted where the applicant’s title is based on their occupation as a squatter, or where they cannot produce documents to prove full legal title.  It may be vulnerable to third party interests that arose before registration with possessory title.

Minor interests protected by entry on the Register

Notice and Restrictions may be entered on the register to protect a minor interest or charge, limiting the powers of the registered owner.

Notices

A notice is an entry on the Charges Register, and is used to protect all those interests that are intended to bind third parties. These include easements, restrictive covenants and estate contracts. Notices can be entered with the owner’s agreement, or unilateral. If a unilateral notice is registered, the legal owner will be informed by the land registrar, giving the land owner opportunity to apply for it to be cancelled – thereby compelling the beneficiary of the notice to justify its entry on the register. 

Restrictions

A restriction is an entry on the Charges Register placing a limitation on the land owner’s powers over the land.  Restrictions are primarily used to protect the interests of beneficiaries under a trust of land, by requiring at least two trustee/proprietors or a trust corporation to be a party to a transfer to ensure compliance with ‘overreaching’ requirements. 

What happens if no application for registration is made?

If a registrable disposition of unregistered land (ie. a triggering event) takes place, but this is not followed by an application for registration within 2 months, the transferee (purchaser/lessee/mortgagee) the disposition is void as far as the creation of a legal estate is concerned. This means the seller/transferor /landlord/mortgagor remains the legal owner and holds the property on bare trust for the other party – until registration takes place.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A former solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.