Owning unregistered land without title deeds: affirming your ownership

How do you protect your ownership of unregistered land, if you do not have the deeds?  What if you have no proof of your ownership of land or interest in the land?  There is a way to confirm your ownership, using the Land Registry.  You can still put your ownership of the land or rights into written form and registration.

Land ownership for registered land is administered in the UK by the Land Registry, starting with first registration of unregistered land.  There are many areas of land in this country, to which there are no deeds.

If you have land but no deeds, then you should submit an application to register it at the Land Registry.  You will need to make a declaration as to how you come to own the land and for how long, including ownership and use prior to you.

Not having deeds is a common problem with rural property but does also happen with urban property, though rare.  Urban property changes hands fairly frequently, compared to rural property/agricultural land, which can be owned by the same family for hundreds of years.

You will need to provide a plan, showing what you think you own.  You need to declare why you have not got any deeds.  Were they lost, destroyed or just never existed?  Some families have owned land for centuries: some clients’ families were given their land centuries ago by the Crown or by Act of Parliament.

I recently registered a farm for a client, who could not locate the assent of land from his father to him.  We obtained a registration fairly easily, because we could show previous deeds and family ownership.

I have also registered land for clients where there are no deeds.  It is a matter of showing ownership and possession/use of the land to the Land Registry.

If you make a successful application without deeds, you will probably receive what is called possessory freehold title.  This is short of the Registry’s highest guaranteed title of absolute freehold.  However, this can be upgraded later.

It is always worth making an application to the Land Registry for registering your land, even if you do not have the deeds.  It is important to do so, in order to protect your interests, confirm your boundaries and to help prevent third parties from making a claim against it by way of adverse possession.

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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