Picture this. An aged relative has died and left you their entire estate in their will. However, there’s not much to it except a large tract of land in the south of England. Developers would break a leg to get their hands on it. But there’s only one problem. The HM Land Registry does not have the land on its books. So what you do if you can’t sell it?
How Land Ownership Is Recorded in England and Wales
Proof of land ownership passes through a legal document called a title deed. Most title deeds in England and Wales are registered with HM Land Registry but this has not always been a legal necessity. However, most land that transferred to new ownership since the war generally is. That’s because mortgage lenders like to be sure who owns it.
Over 85% of land and property in England and Wales is now on HM Land Registry’s books as a result. They say most of the remainder belongs to the crown, the aristocracy, and the church none of whom actually purchased it. There are also exceptions in rural areas where property is inherited, not purchased with a loan.
So How Do You Resolve Land that is Not Registered?
HM Land Registry says, with a virtual wink on its website “Well, the simple answer is that it will often come down to your own detective work, where the land or property is located in the country, and sometimes luck!”
Your first port of call is to search your aged relative’s home from the attic to the basement for the title deed. People usually keep valuable documents safely, sometimes so safely they are impossible to find. Assuming you abandon hope, short of digging up the garden what do you do next?
# Ask the near neighbours who they think owns the piece of land. If the community overwhelmingly says your relative owned it, you may have a chance.
# Ask everybody living in the community for a long period of time what they think. The people in the pub, the post office and the shop may have overheard something.
# Review the title deeds of the adjoining properties for clues. HM Land Registry says there’s a possibility one may refer to ‘other land’ and mention the owner.
# Cast your net further to the local authority. They may still have their own land registry records. You could also find your aged relative mentioned as owner on a utility account.
# If you have no luck with that, consult the local authority’s plans office next. Planning applications must be signed by the property owner to be valid.
After You Do All That, What Do You Do Next
If you can gather sufficient corroboratory evidence you could speak to a lawyer about advertising the property on The Gazette. If nobody pops out of the woodwork and proves they are the owner, then you might finally be onto a good thing..
Give this your very best shot with help from an able solicitor. That’s because the land could be declared ownerless and become a crown possession if you fail. Now that would be a real shame when you were looking forward to calling a developer. and cashing in the money.