Title deeds are documents which prove ownership of land or property. During the last 90 years, Land Registry has been compiling a central register of property and land in England and Wales. It is now compulsory to register any sale, purchase, deed of gift, mortgage, new lease or assent (which is a transfer following the death of the legal owner) with Land Registry. Compulsory registration has been phased in gradually in different areas over the last 30 years or so. Therefore, if you purchased your property or land before 1986, it is likely that the title to your property is unregistered. This means a record of your ownership is not held centrally at Land Registry. Your deeds may be held by a solicitor, a mortgage lender or by you, at home, or perhaps lodged at your bank.
Unfortunately, title deeds are sometimes mislaid or destroyed. If this happens and your property is unregistered, you will need to apply to Land Registry for registration of title based on a Statement of Truth as to where and how the title deeds destroyed, or as to the circumstances in which they were lost. The registration process in these circumstances is different to that which applies when you can produce the original deeds and documents.
The process usually starts with the owner signing a Statement of Truth as to the loss of the documents. Any copy documents held and historic photographs showing boundaries or other evidence that you own the property (such as mortgage documentation) will of course be very helpful.
Land Registry has published a Practice Guide on the process involved in applying for registration in these circumstances, which can be viewed here.
When registration of title is granted by Land Registry in these circumstances, it is usual that a “possessory title” is granted, meaning that your ownership is subject to third parties being able to show a better claim to the property than you. However, once you have held the registered “possessory title” for a period of at least 12 years, you are entitled to apply to have the title upgraded to an “absolute title”, which is the best grade of title Land Registry issue and is what one would expect you to be granted had the title deeds and documents not been mislaid. In the interim period it is usually necessary to obtain a legal indemnity insurance to protect future owners of the property against any third parties claiming ownership.
To minimise the risk of future problems, Thompson Smith and Puxon recommend that, if your property is currently unregistered, and you have mislaid the original title deeds, it would be advisable to apply for first registration at this stage so that when you come to sell or deal with the property in the future, you will not experience a delay because you cannot evidence your legal ownership.
Contact the TSP Residential Property team on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how they can help you with a first registration where your title deeds have been lost or destroyed.