So what is Unregistered land? Unregistered land is land that is not registered with the land registry but this does not mean that it is not owned, the owner of unregistered land will often have a bundle of deeds, which form a record of previous sales, mortgages and other dealings with the land. However, if the land is mortgaged, the lender normally holds the deeds as security for their loan. There is usually no public record of the information contained in the deeds. You can find the owner of unregistered land and there are companies that deal with finding the owners and advising what you can do should you come across a piece of unregistered land and need some guidance.

Finding the owners of unregistered land is a long and difficult task; once you have found the owners of unregistered land the next stage is to make them an offer on that land. You must also make sure you are happy that they are the owners by seeing the title deeds. There will be no title register or title plan for the land, this is why it is unregistered so the only way to confirm the owners of unregistered land is through the title deeds. The next step is registering the land so you can prove ownership through the Land Registry, if you are the registered owner people can perform a simple search for a title plan or search for a title register and you will be shown as the owner.

Unregistered Land - Ownership Search

Knowing how and when to register unregistered land is difficult as at times it is recommended to leave the land unregistered but in other instances it must be registered.

When unregistered land is registered for the first time the registration can take several different forms but the main two are

Absolute freehold – The owner has all the rights subject to rights appearing in the register and overriding interests. This is the most frequently awarded class of title and is the most reliable.

Possessory freehold – An applicant will get a mere possessory title if they cannot produce sufficient documentary evidence of title. They remain subject to all adverse interests existing at the date of registration.

An application for first registration must be made within two months of a disposition triggering first registration and failure to register can have drastic effects. The disposition becomes statutorily void for the purposes of transferring, granting or creating a legal estate and the title takes effect in equity only. The title reverts back to the vendor who holds it on bare trust for the transferee.

After first registration all subsequent transfers of title must be recorded in the register to take effect at law.

Until registration the vendor holds trustee and the purchaser has only an equitable estate in the property. There is no time limit for registration of title in subsequent dealings in registered land, but delays risk the possibility of dealings in the property by the vendor.

Events that trigger first registration

There are certain events that mean you must register the land/property with Land Registry.

When title must be registered

Section 4 of the LRA 2002 sets out the events that trigger the compulsory first registration of title. These were updated and extended by the Land Registration Act 1997, and the Act therefore largely replicates the existing position. First, compulsory registration is triggered by specified types of transfer of a qualifying estate, which is defined as either a legal freehold estate or a legal lease with more than seven years to run. The transfers are those made:

i)     For valuable or other consideration (which under subsection (6) includes estates which have a negative value);

ii)     by way of gift (which subsection (7) provides will include transfers for the purposes of constituting a trust under which the settler does not retain the whole of the beneficial interest, or transfers for the purpose of uniting the legal title and the beneficial interest in property held under a trust under which the settler did not, on constitution, retain the whole of the beneficial interest);

iii)     Under a court order; and

iv)     By means of an assent (including a vesting assent).

Under subsection (3), transfers do not include transfers by operation of law (where, for example, an owner’s property vests in personal representatives on death). Under subsection (4) compulsory registration will not apply to transfers involving:

  • i)     the assignment of a mortgage term (where there is a mortgage by demise or sub-demise, and the mortgagee assigns the mortgage by transferring the mortgage term); or
  • ii)     Where a lease is assigned or surrendered to the owner of the immediate reversion where the term is to merge in that reversion (because the estate transferred disappears).

30.    Registration will be compulsory where section 171A of the Housing Act 1985 applies (i.e. where a person ceases to be a secure tenant because his or her landlord disposes of an interest in a house to a private sector landlord (subsection (1)(b), replicating the current law)). Compulsory Registration will also apply to the grant of leases out of freehold land or leasehold, with more than seven years to run, where the lease is granted for valuable or other consideration, by way of a gift, or under a court order, apart from the exceptions in the section.

There is no doubt that Land Registry matters are long and complicated.