Sometimes the title deeds to land or property can be lost over time, whether through lack of careful storage or more commonly where an elderly parent dies without passing on details of their finances. Although there are ways to replace lost deeds, the process involved is more complicated when property or land is unregistered.

In this article, we will take you through everything you need to know about Title Deeds, their importance and what to do to if you lose them.

What are Title Deeds?

Title deeds are physical legal documents which prove the chain of ownership to a property or piece of land. They contain important information about the property or land, including its location, boundaries and any limitations or restrictions that may apply to the ownership. For older properties that have changed hands many times, title deeds can be a complex collection of hand-written conveyances dating back many years and documenting the history or ownership. They can often make for very interesting reading!

On 1 December 1990, it became compulsory to register any sale, purchase or transfer of property or land with HM Land Registry who maintain a centralised, digital database of ownership. In addition, the Land Registration Act 2002 which came into effect in October 2003 requires property transactions such as deeds of gift, leases of more than 7 years (or with more than 7 years to run) and the creation of a first mortgage to be registered.

As a result, physical title deeds have become less and less common over time. However, because compulsory registration was phased in gradually across the UK, if your property or land was purchased in the early 1990’s or prior, its details may not be recorded on the central register. HM Land Registry themselves have set a target of 2030 to register all land and property but this may be difficult to achieve.

Should I have the Deeds to my house?

Land and properties purchased within the last 30 years are likely to be registered with the Land Registry. A quick and simple check of the register will be able to confirm either way.

If the property or land is registered, the electronic registry will contain all the details of ownership that would have previously been written in the title deeds, so it is not necessary to have the physical deeds in your possession.

If your check of the registry reveals that your property (or land), is unregistered and you hold the physical title deeds, we recommend that you go through the process of first registration with the Land Registry. As you hold the deeds this is similar to the process in a normal purchase and the Backhouse team can make sure the first registration is done correctly.

What happens if you lose the Deeds to my house?

If you have lost the title deeds this may not be an immediate cause for concern, however if your land or property is not registered with the Land Registry and you wish to sell or remortgage it, you will need to provide the title deeds to prove your ownership.

Having your property registered also makes it much harder for a third party to claim ownership of all or part of your land, for example by moving a fence over your boundary, or even applying to register your property without you knowing.

How to find lost Title Deeds

If you have lost the title deeds to your property or land, the first step is to contact the solicitor, mortgage company or bank that dealt with your purchase as they may be holding the deeds on your behalf.  It was common practice for mortgage lenders to hold onto the title deeds until your mortgage was cleared to stop you from selling the property without paying off the loan.

If you are still unable to locate them, then you will need to apply to HM Land Registry for First Registration based on a Statement of Truth.

Applying for First Registration based on a Statement of Truth

This is a much more complex process than a standard first registration as it involves:

  • Completing the prescribed registration forms
  • Providing HM Land Registry with a full factual account of the circumstances leading to the loss or destruction of the original title deeds
  • Supporting your application with any documents relating to the property and your history of its ownership. Death certificates, probate documents, transfer papers, conveyancing letters, mortgage statements and utility bills may all prove helpful to support your claim

As long as it is witnessed in accordance with Land Registry requirements, you can also submit a Statutory Declaration from neighbours or third parties who can confirm your ownership. Enclosing plans of neighbouring properties will help to demonstrate your boundaries, however Land Registry may send a surveyor to check.

How do you obtain a Possessory Title?

When first registration is granted via a Statement of Truth it is normal practice for Land Registry to issue a “possessory title”. This means that your ownership is subject to another party being able to prove a better claim than you. Once the possessory title is held for a period of 12 years you can then apply for an “absolute title” which is what you would obtain had you held the title deeds in the first instance.

It is vital that you check the documents relating to the possessory title carefully to ensure there will not be any issues in the event you sell the property or land prior to the absolute title being granted. There are strict timeframes for dealing with any queries or disputes and therefore we would strongly recommend you engage the services of a conveyancing solicitor to make sure it is done properly.

How Backhouse Solicitors can help

The Backhouse Solicitors Conveyancing team were the first in Chelmsford to qualify for the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme Accreditation (CQS) – the mark of Excellence for the conveyancing process.

You can rest assured that should you need to apply for first registration, the matter will be handled to the highest standard by our specialist property lawyers and reliable and friendly advice is guaranteed!

If you would like to discuss First Registration in more detail or need advice about lost Title Deeds, contact us and speak to Rhys Tilsley who will be happy to help!

Tel:          01245 893400
Visit:       17 Duke Street, Chelmsford, CM1 1JU
Or send us a message through the Contact Us page on this website.