Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Don’t be caught out by unregistered land

We need to know that our property is safe. We lock the doors and windows every night, set the alarm every time we go out, but do we need to see and feel our property deeds to enjoy our land and know it’s safe?

First Registrations

Many people are unaware of the potential risks and liabilities that come with owning unregistered land. There is the belief that security comes through passing the estate down through laws of inheritance or simply by keeping those precious deeds locked away in a bedroom drawer.

However, the process is a little more complex than presenting the deeds as proof of ownership.

First, a “good root of title” must be established by referring to the deeds. This is done hoping that the documents show an unbroken chain of ownership, along with evidence of mortgage redemptions and covenants on the land.

What can go wrong?

Providing the deeds are legible – they show clear ownership and name you as the current proprietor – everything should be fine. Consider yourself the physical safeguarder of the family jewels.

Over 85% of land and property in England and Wales is now registered with the Land Registry, all land is owned by someone, even if the land is unregistered and a legal owner cannot be found.

The law states that land can pass to the crown if legal ownership cannot be established upon death. The biggest risk to unregistered land is adverse possession, more commonly known as squatters’ rights.

Adverse possession

When a claim for adverse possession is received by the Land Registry, they are required to contact the legal owner.

With unregistered land, the legal owners are unknown, and the Land Registry does not know who to serve notice to. This opens up the possibility of a fraudulent claim being made on the unregistered land. This happens scarily quite often.

The rules of adverse possession differ depending if the land is registered or unregistered. This means that you may not have the automatic right to object to an application if your property is unregistered.

Squatters can demonstrate a clear intention to own by simply using the land and/property for a set period of time before claiming it as their own.

Would you be willing to take the risk?

If you discover that your land is not registered, the Land Registry provides a voluntary First Registry service. If you plan on selling your property, make sure it is registered. Selling unregistered land is often a long process that will likely cause delays.

This article was written by North Yorkshire Law

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances, and is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to North Yorkshire Law directly.

Published on 9th October 2018
(Last updated 7th July 2023)