Registering unregistered land

How to register unregistered land

When will land have been registered?

Since 1998, there has been a legal requirement for compulsory registration of land purchased and otherwise transferred – including by way of gift, inheritance, mortgage and so on. This means that anything giving rise to the transfer of ownership of land or property must be completed by formal registration at HM Land Registry. This must be done within three months.

Is unregistered land a bad thing?

Unregistered land is not necessarily a lesser form of legal title or ownership than registered land. For instance, the land may have been inherited or given to the existing owner before 1998 when there was no requirement for compulsory registration (except in the case of a sale and other limited circumstances).

However, in some cases a purchaser of unregistered land may insist on the land being registered at the Land Registry before going ahead. This is done by an application for First Registration. This can be done by a lay person but specialist legal advice is advisable. The purchase and registration of unregistered land will need to be carried out by a specialist property solicitor.

Making an application for first registration

To complete an application, it is important to locate all the deeds of the property. The deeds are all the documents relating to the property and the owners’ ownership of the property which can be used to prove an unbroken chain of ownership, right up to the current owner’s right to sell the land. These deeds may include:

  • Conveyances and transfers;
  • Plans of the property;
  • Grants of probate;
  • Death certificates;
  • Mortgage deeds;
  • Deeds of easement;
  • Deeds of restrictive covenants;
  • Memoranda showing sales of part;
  • Mortgage notes, loans and confirmation of payment;
  • Statutory declarations;
  • A lease, if the property is leasehold, and;
  • Anything else the Land Registry will require to deduce title.

Plans are often critical to prove the extent of the land that is to be registered. Where the land has always remained one plot with no parts having been sold off, the plan with the original conveyance will be particularly important. This plan will be used by the Land Registry to determine the boundaries of the land being registered.

Plans are also vital to show any changes in the borders, for instance, where parts have been sold off previously.

Root of Title

The ´Root of Title´ is the document that is being relied on to prove legal ownership of the property and is often the original conveyance. Sometimes, it is a subsequent conveyance. A ‘good’ Root of Title is one that shows both legal and beneficially ownership of the then owner/s, so an assent or deed of gift is not good enough.

All subsequent conveyances and other documents, as listed above, should be produced (‘deduced’) showing an unbroken chain of legal ownership of the title – ending with the document that is evidence of the current legal owner’s legal right to sell the property.

If you are buying unregistered land, the contract will show the document that will be produced to the Land Registry as the root of title. Your solicitor will already have seen a copy.

Epitome of Title

An Epitome of Title is a document listing all the title deeds and documents showing the property in chronological order, beginning with the Root of Title. The Epitome is important as it sets out clearly the chain of ownership for the Land Registry and the solicitors involved. If you have recently inherited land, or are seeking to register land which is currently unregistered, you may find an existing Epitome of Title which will make a sale/first registration easier for you as you will only need to ensure it is up to date and complete.

If you are creating your own Epitome of Title, you need only to state the type of document, the date, title and parties – and then enter in the details from those deeds/documents. You will need to show at least 15 years of ownership – and make sure the chain is unbroken.

Epitomes can be simple, or they can be complex. A very simple Epitome may, for instance, comprise an original conveyance from 1955 to the late legal owner, and a Grant of Probate giving the seller the legal right to sell the property today as executor. The 1955 Epitome will be a good Root of Title, and there is an unbroken chain of ownership.

On the other hand, a lengthy Epitome can include conveyances, sales of part, a death certificate, and other documents over a period of decades.

First Registration with the Land Registry

A FR1 form can be downloaded from the Land Registry website which you need to complete and submit to the Land Registry, along with the Epitome of Title and the payment required. A list of fees is available on the Land Registry website (or you can contact your local office). Make sure your contact information is correctly recorded on the FR1 Form, as the Land Registry may need to contact you for further information or clarification.

After registration

The Land Registry will advise you if they require further documentation, or if your registration has been successful. When registration is complete they will send you a copy (‘Office Copies’) of the Registered Title. It is important that you check the details carefully, such as the spelling of your name, the location of the property and the correct dates. This information will be important for when you sell the property in the future. It is also important to check that you have been granted Absolute Title – which you should have if your deeds proved absolute ownership of the property.

If any deeds are lost, or the chain of title is incomplete, Possessory Title will be given – this can be upgraded to Absolute Title after 12 years.

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

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