You’re about to sell your property and can’t find that file of papers sent to you by the conveyancing lawyer when you bought – a swell of panic slowly rises and you start thinking you have a big problem.
Well, in most cases, YOU CAN RELAX.
Title deeds not generally important for legal ownership due to Registered Land system
Since 1925, land ownership in England & Wales has been dealt with by the Land Registry. It was not possible to register the millions of properties and land in one go. Remember, we were not digital back then.
So, the way the system worked was that gradually, over many years, more and more properties became compulsorily registrable upon change of ownership or grant of new interests and that process is nearly complete.
NOTE : There are still a relatively small number of properties that have not yet been registered, typically those that have not changed ownership since 1925. With those properties, the original title deeds are very important as they are the main way of proving ownership. If you own a property that has not changed hands since 19325 or before, on sale, if you do have sufficient title deeds, showing a chain of ownership to you, on completion, the buyer will have to register the property at the Land Registry.
At the time of first registration, which for the vast majority of properties might have been decades ago, all relevant deeds and documents relating to the land should have been submitted to the Land Registry.
Land Registry conclusive as to legal title
Where land is registered, it makes no difference that you don’t have a formal Certificate of title. It is the Land Registry’s electronic register that is conclusive. I chose the title to this paragraph carefully. What I mean is that the Land Registry title for your property is conclusive as to legal ownership.
If you know the title number to your property, you can easily get a copy of your title by paying a small fee.
If you want to sell, your conveyancing lawyers will do this anyway.
So, in summary, as regards proving legal ownership of your property, you are highly unlikely to have a problem, even if you have no paperwork.
Title deeds – leases
The same general principle as above applies with long leases of flats. Your legal interest will have been registered and a title number created. The lease should have also been sent in to the Land Registry, so you should be able to easily obtain a copy of that.
Where lost or misplaced property documents may be relevant
People often get confused between title deeds and other important documents relating to a property. Strictly speaking, as explained above, title deeds relate to legal ownership. However, from experience, when seeking advice or googling the issue of lost title deeds, non-lawyers may mean other types of property documents.
Whilst all relevant, registrable interests in land should be registered against a property under the Land Registration Rules, there are also potentially non-registrable interests in land which may be relevant. For example, there may not be a formal Right of Way created for a property which would be registrable as an interest affecting the land but there might be documents which evidence a longstanding informal right of way, such as letters and if these have been lost, proving a right would be much harder.
Other important types of documents, which, if lost, might cause loss and damage, include any documents demonstrating details about beneficial ownership of property. The legal owners are not necessarily the same as the beneficial owners.
Also important are planning documents. If a seller is unable to demonstrate that appropriate Planning Permissions or Building Regulations consents were granted for internal alterations changes or external extensions this can be problematic on sale. Sometimes, owners simply can’t remember whether they applied for such consents and/or were advised they were necessary. Whilst the position can be clarified by formal request to a Local Authority, if permissions were needed but were not applied for, by asking the Local Authority to check, you may be alerting them to a potential breach which could impact on your ability to sell or prompt enforcement.
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