Missing deeds and registered property
If you lose the deeds to your registered property you will be able to obtain copies of the misplaced deeds from the Land Registry for a small fee. In the case of a leasehold property, the Land Registry will also typically hold a File Copy of the Registered Lease which you can purchase.
Losing title deeds and unregistered property
Things become murkier if you lose the deeds (or equally if the deeds are destroyed) for an unregistered title, because the title will need to be reconstructed.
To achieve this, the Land Registry will rely on any unearthed documentary evidence and your Statutory Declaration (see below). In such a case it is unlikely you will be granted absolute title. Instead, the Land Registry will provide you with either ‘possessory title’ or ‘qualified title’. “Possessory title” means that the Land Registry has not been provided with all the necessary documentation to meet their criteria for absolute title. contrast, “absolute title” shows that you have an unequivocal right of ownership to the property. It also often referred to as a “perfect title”.
“Qualified titles” are uncommon and can come into effect when the application to the Land Registry involves some form of defect or qualification.
It’s worth noting that the land or property has been registered with a possessory title for a number of 12 years, the owner is able to make an application to the Land Registry to upgrade to absolute title.
Click here to read more about selling property or land with possessory title.
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Can a missing title deeds indemnity insurance policy help?
Indemnity insurance is form of insurance policy which can cover this sort of situation. It usually involves a simple one-off payment for a policy covering the cost implications of any third party claim against any title defects with the land or property you are purchasing, or already own.
If you apply for a mortgage or looking to sell the property the lender or buyer is likely to require this kind of indemnity insurance to be put in place to protect their interests in the event that a third-party challenges the title.
How to replace lost title deeds
With unregistered property, this is going to be a job for an experienced property solicitor – with your help.
If the land is unregistered, you would normally be expected to provide the Land Registry with the original deeds of the property. That will provide what is often referred to as a good ‘root of title’ which goes back at least 15 years.
But with lost deeds and unregistered land, you will need to apply for first registration of the title at the Land Registry. It is vital to instruct an experienced solicitor to do this work as it is highly specialised.
In particular, the Land Registry will expect:
- an explanation of the events that have led to the loss or destruction of your title deeds – including clear identification of who had possession of your title deeds and where they were held when they were lost or destroyed
- evidence of your identity
- proof that everything possible has been done to locate the original deeds
Extensive evidence in the form of mortgage payment records, utility or council tax bill, copies of any rent book, electoral records, insurance and any estate agent records will need to be collected, as well as an explanation of how and why the property was not registered.
The process to reconstitute the title in this way will involve a solicitor preparing various documents which will require swearing before another law firm. These particular documents are known as Statutory Declarations. It’s also possible that you may need to provide additional forms of evidence for the Land Registry – including what are called “Statements of Truth” which do not require swearing before another law firm.
Once these documents and any other evidence available are collected together, your solicitor will then make an application to HM Land Registry to seek registration of title to the property.
Unfortunately, this process is not a quick one. The Land Registry currently have a major backlog and you could be waiting many months. However, once the application is submitted to the Land Registry, they will supply a date by which it should be completed.
The need to accurately identifying your land
The Land Registry will also need to accurately identify the property. If you fail to do so, expect your application to be rejected.
A plan capable of identifying the land on the Ordnance Survey map is usually sufficient.
Simple description of the land in words is usually not sufficient – except where
- Your application relates to a clear postal addresses
- Your land property is fully fenced and the fence provides a clear boundary
And it’s worth pointing out that the role of the Land Registry with regard to lost title deeds isn’t simply an automatic rubber stamping job. For example, with lost or destroyed deeds, the Land Registry sometimes arrangements for an Ordnance Survey surveyor to carry out an inspection of the land before registration is granted. There may be a fee for this.
My solicitor has lost the title deeds to my property – what can I do?
If it’s a solicitor who has lost the deeds, which unfortunately does happen from time to time, that solicitor should agree to cover the work involved and/or pay for any costs incurred in replacing those title deeds. It’s also surprisingly common for banks and building societies to lose title deeds for customers.
Can I sell land without title?
Technically no. The Land Registration Act 1925 declared that all legal estates in land, throughout England and Wales must now be registered at the Land Registry (this Act was updated in 2002).