Strictly speaking, the title deeds are all the documents that constitute proof of the legal ownership of unregistered land and property. They also show past transfers of ownership through gifts, under wills and so on.
However, the vast majority of land in England and Wales is now registered. In December 1990, it became compulsory in England and Wales to register land at HM Land Registry on completion of a transaction, such as a sale and purchase. The official register at the Land Registry constitutes evidence of legal title, so traditional ‘title deeds’ are no longer needed for a sale, transfer, mortgage, and so on.
If the land is registered, the title deeds comprise the Official Copies of the registered title, the Title Plan, and any documents referred to in the register, such as an old conveyance. These additional title deeds will usually be available at the Land Registry. The Land Registry keeps a formal record of the legal title to a property in the Title Plan, together with three different registers, namely:
- Property register;
- Proprietorship register, and;
- Charges register.
The plan shows the boundaries to the property, and any other information that helps identify the legal title to the property.
This defines and describes the property, the address, and the rights benefiting the property such as any rights of way, a lease, and other positive rights attached to this property.
It is common for other documents to also be referred to in the property register. These may, for instance, refer to restrictive covenants, easements and so on. It is important to read the wording of the property register carefully so that you understand the extent of the property.
This contains information about who the owner is (the ‘Registered Proprietor’); the class of title (ie. absolute, qualified, possessory, leasehold); and any notices affecting the legal owner’s right to sell, mortgage, and so on.
This contains any charges (such as mortgages), and any other third party rights with respect to the property which may adversely affect the owner’s rights. A common entry will be a restrictive covenant; for instance, restricting the owner from doing something with the land.
It is important to check the nature of restrictive covenants and whether there have been any breaches of the covenant – a subsequent purchase could be made liable. If there is a financial charge (ie. a mortgage) registered in the charges register, the consent of the lender will be required before any disposition of the property takes place. In practice, the mortgage would be redeemed on sale and the entry on the charges register removed.
In unregistered land, the title deeds are set out in separate documents such as conveyances, deeds of easements, grants of probate, death certificates, leases, memorandum of sale, and so on. A set of these title deeds which shows an unbroken chain of ownership over a number of years is called an Epitome of Title.
A seller of unregistered land will need to produce this to a potential buyer of the property.
This is a legal deed that transfers the legal ownership of the property to someone else.
Deeds of easement
A deed of easement is a formal legal document that grants rights of way over property which belongs to another owner.
A mortgage deed is a legal document evidencing a financial loan secured on the land in favour of a bank or building society.
A lease is an agreement between the landlord and the tenant as to the occupation of the landlord’s property for a certain period of time in return for a payment of rent, services charges, or for a premium in the case of a long lease.
The lease (if current) will typically include a rent review clause and it is important to check whether it is an upwards or downwards rent review clause. Upwards rent review means that the tenant will not be able to have the rent at any lower rent than it is now even if the market prices fall. With a downwards rent review clause, the rent can only be less than the current amount.