The Land Registry, set up in 1862, is a government department responsible for maintaining a central register of property ownership in England and Wales. Since 1990, it has been compulsory to register property and land with the Land Registry. Fast forward 33 years, even now not all properties are registered. In this article, our commercial property solicitors consider when registration is necessary, the benefits of registration and using a solicitor to do this for you, as well as the process of registering land. We also look at how to avoid or deal with common issues.
- When should you register land with the Land Registry?
- Do you need help from a solicitor to register land with the Land Registry?
- Advantages of registering land
- Registering land for the first time – the process
- Registering land without deeds
- Registering a change of ownership
- Registering a lease
- Priority Searches
- Land Registry fees – How much does it cost to register land with the Land Registry?
- How long does it take to register with the Land Registry?
- Common requisitions raised by the Land Registry
- Registering land with adverse possession
- Dealing with objections and challenges
- What happens if your registration is successful?
When should you register land with the Land Registry?
For quite some time now in the UK, it has been a legal requirement to register land or property that you’ve:
- traded or exchanged with another landowner, also known as ‘land swaps’
- received as a gift
- certain leases - those of more than 7 years
- rights contained in some leases
In other words, if property changes hands or is mortgaged, it must be registered with the Land Registry. Once registered, in general you must continue to inform the Land Registry of any dealings with the land including changes to the title, mortgages, leases over seven years and any easements affecting the land. Failure to do so can have serious consequences on your property ownership and rights.
If you acquired your land or property pre-1990 and have not mortgaged it since, it is likely to be unregistered. In this case, you can choose to register it at any time by making a voluntarily application to the Land Registry. You don’t have to wait until you sell or mortgage, and in fact, registering land prior to this makes the process much smoother.
Do you need help from a solicitor to register land with the Land Registry?
Most conveyancing solicitors will apply to register land that you have purchased as part of their conveyancing service. You may find this referred to as ‘post-completion requirements’ in your paperwork. This is because we can only make the application on your behalf to the Land Registry once the property purchase has completed. The same applies if you mortgage property – the lender will require the loan to be noted against your property at the Land Registry, also known as a ‘charge.’
In other situations where a solicitor may not be involved, such as if a family member gifts property to you, or you agree to trade parcels of land with someone you know personally – you must take steps to formally record the transfer of ownership. Asking an experienced commercial property solicitor to handle the Land Registry formalities for you may very well be worth your time. In particular, you will benefit from:
- Expertise: as conveyancers, we are familiar with the minefield of procedures and processes to register land, which can be difficult to navigate if you haven’t done this before.
- Time-saving: registering land can be a time-consuming process, from gathering all the correct documents to dealing with any questions or concerns raised by the Land Registry. Instructing solicitors to take care of the paperwork means you have the time to focus on your business. Most law firms also have online business accounts with the Land Registry which are quicker than paper applications.
- ID and certification: as solicitors, we can verify your identity and certify any documents for you. If you handle the process as a private individual, you need to complete additional forms and arrange to certify any documents submitted as part of your application, which are likely to come at a cost.
- Risk-mitigation: the sheer consequences of getting it wrong may be reason enough to seek the help of a legal professional. If registered incorrectly, there can be all sorts of financial, legal and practical implications, such as:
- the risk that someone else may claim ownership of the land, also known as ‘adverse possession’
- errors in the description of the land or ownership of boundaries may result in disputes with neighbours
- correcting any errors can itself be a lengthy and expensive process, requiring another application to the Land Registry
- purchasers and lenders are likely to require that you correct any errors on the title before proceeding, which can impact or delay the sale or mortgage
Overall, using a solicitor can save you a lot of time, money and effort, and ultimately protect your interest in a valuable asset.
Advantages of registering land
There are plenty of advantages to registering land, including:
- registration gives you clear legal title/proof of ownership of the property
- registration significantly reduces the risk of others claiming they own or have a right to your land (adverse possession claims)
- you are less likely to be a victim of property fraud ie where your property is fraudulently mortgaged or sold by someone impersonating you
- registration can help with legal issues that may arise in the future relating to boundary ownership/responsibility
- the process of selling or financing becomes much simpler and smoother with clear ownership of the land
- the Land Registry charge a lower fee if you are voluntarily making an application for first registration
If you own unregistered property or land and would like peace of mind knowing it has been registered, contact our commercial property solicitors to get started.
Registering land for the first time – the process
Registering land for the first time at the Land Registry is known as ‘first registration’. It is a lengthy and often complex process. Below, we summarise what steps you and your solicitor must take.
1. Property Information
The first step is to provide your solicitor with relevant information and paperwork to evidence your property ownership. This includes any change in circumstances since the transfer of the property into your name. The documents to pull together are:
- any deeds and legal documents you hold relating to the property, whether in your name or the name of previous owners
- marriage certificate or name deed polls to evidence any change of name
- death certificates for deceased owners
- agreements that you have entered into since owning the property such as rights of way or mortgages
Your solicitor will also need to know the approximate value of your property, as this will dictate the Land Registry’s fee for dealing with the application.
2. Root of Title
Your solicitor will go through the information supplied by you and pinpoint the ‘root of title’. This is a deed, such as a mortgage, transfer or conveyance used as a starting point for a chain of ownership, ending with you as the current owner.
If this deed is at least 15 years old (and it was not a gift into your name), then it is considered to be a ‘good root of title’. All deeds pre-dating the root of title can be discarded, unless the deed itself refers to any rights or covenants (promises relating to the land) contained in them.
If the transfer of the property into your name is less than 15 years old, or it was a gift, then it cannot be used as a good root of title. Your solicitor will now try to find the deed that transferred the property into the previous owner’s name. This process is repeated until a good root of title is located.
3. Land Charges Search
Your solicitor will then carry out a ‘land charges search’. This involves searching the Land Registry against all previous owners, to check if any rights may still exist in relation to your property.
4. Application to the Land Registry
Once satisfied, your solicitor will make an application to the Land Registry for first registration accompanied by:
- the good root of title;
- any documents referred to in the root of title;
- any relevant marriage or death certificates, mortgage or other legal documents relating to the property; and
- land charges search.
If the deeds do not clearly identify the property, you will also need to commission a Land Registry-compliant plan to submit with your application.
Registering land without deeds
If your land is unregistered and you do not have the deeds, then it may be trickier to establish ownership.
You will need to pull together any information about your land that may support your ownership claim. This could be documents such as:
- rent receipts
- letters from your solicitor at the time you acquired the property
- any general correspondence relating to your acquisition of the land
Your application needs to be accompanied by a thorough statutory declaration - a written statement of fact confirming that the information within it is true to the best of a person’s knowledge. The statement should outline the history of ownership and provide as much detail as possible to evidence that you are the current owner. It needs to be signed in the presence of a solicitor to be valid, which usually costs around £5, plus £2 for every document attached to the declaration.
The statutory declaration must be sufficiently detailed and accurately prepared to improve your chances of the Land Registry accepting your application. Using the help of an experienced and knowledgeable commercial property solicitor can make all the difference.
Registering a change of ownership
If you have recently acquired property, whether that’s through purchase, gift or inheritance – you must take steps to formally register the change of ownership with the Land Registry.
For purchases or gifts of land, you need to sign and lodge a Land Registry-compliant transfer deed form. If the transfer is of the whole of a property – use form ‘TR1’ and if it is of part of a property, it’s ‘TP1’.
For property inherited from a sole owner, you need to submit a document called an ‘Assent’ or ‘AS1’ to the Land Registry, together with the grant of probate. If satisfied, the Land Registry will then transfer the property into your name. If the property was owned by more than one person, unfortunately, it is not that simple and further considerations apply.
If you need help with registering a transfer of ownership or have any questions about change of ownership, our friendly team of commercial property solicitors are here to help.
Registering a lease
When should you register a lease?
If you have recently signed a commercial lease, it is compulsory to register it with the Land Registry in some instances, including:
- the grant of a new commercial lease for a term of more than seven years (even if the freehold title is unregistered)
- transfer of an existing registered lease
- transfer of an existing unregistered lease which has more than seven years left to run
- the grant of a lease that starts more than three months after the date it is granted, regardless of its length
Leases granted for a term of seven years or less are not registrable.
If your current lease is unregistered and has more than seven years left to run, you can voluntarily apply to register it with the Land Registry.
Time limit and consequences for failure to register lease
If a lease is subject to compulsory registration, it must be registered within two months of the date it was created. The obligation to do so usually falls on the tenant, which is often written into the lease itself.
Failure to register within the time limit means the lease will not operate in law, but only in equity or as a contract ie it has a much weaker status. This can cause problems in the future, particularly when it comes to selling, subletting or financing the property. Potential buyers and lenders expect to see a valid legal interest in the property.
For landlords, you may not be able to recover unpaid rent from a guarantor of the lease. If you sold your freehold interest in the property, the lease would not transfer to the purchaser, and continue to exist as a personal contract between you and the tenant.
Procedure for registering a lease
Once the lease has completed, the next steps are to pay stamp duty land tax if applicable and make an application to the Land Registry. The application must include:
- a certified copy of the lease
- a Land Registry-compliant lease plan (usually contained within the lease)
- a stamp duty land tax certificate
- payment of the applicable Land Registry fee
The Land Registry will generate a unique title number for your leasehold interest on registration, and also note the lease on your landlord’s title (the freehold title out of which the lease was granted).
Actions to take for unregistrable leases
- If your unregistrable lease has a term of more than three years, you can apply to note it on your landlord’s title. By doing so, any prospective buyers of the freehold title will be alerted to your interest in the land.
- If your lease is unregistrable but grants you rights (easements) over your landlord’s property, they must be registered against your landlord’s title to take legal effect. This makes the right enforceable should there be complications down the line.
Variations to leases
You and your landlord may agree to change or amend the terms of the lease in the future. For example, varying the lease to allow you to share the property with another business, where previously it had been prohibited. Such variations are usually recorded in the form of a legally binding document known as a deed of variation. The deed of variation itself must be recorded against your leasehold title and the landlord’s freehold title to take effect in law.
To register the deed, you must make an application to alter the register (form AP1), enclosing a certified copy of the deed and pay the requisite Land Registry fee.
If you are purchasing land or property, immediately before completion of the sale, your solicitor will undertake an important search at the Land Registry. This search, known as a ‘priority search’ is to ensure that the title register has not changed since a copy was provided by the seller at the outset of the transaction. The priority search triggers the beginning of a ‘priority period’, which means the property title is essentially locked at the Land Registry for six weeks, and any other dealings with it prevented.
The transfer of the property into your name must be registered during this priority period to ensure your ownership is not subject to any other rights asserted over the property.
Land Registry fees – How much does it cost to register land with the Land Registry?
Land Registry fees vary depending on several factors including the type of application made, whether it relates to the whole or part of a property title, the value of the property and even the method used to apply. Charges can start at £20 but can go up to £1,105, depending on the price of the property. The Land Registry operates two separate pay ‘scales’ as follows:
Scale 1 covers sale and purchase registrations, or first registrations of land.
Scale 1 fees are calculated based on the consideration (ie the purchase price) of the land or for first registrations, the open market value.
Land Registry Fee Scale 1:
|Value of property or land||Postal fee||Transfers or surrenders relating to the whole of the registered title (apply using portal or Business Gateway)||Registration of all leases and transfers or surrenders which affect part of a registered title (apply using portal or Business Gateway)||Voluntary first registration|
|£1,000,001 and over||£1,105||£500||£1,105||£830|
There is a reduced fee for voluntary first registrations to encourage owners of unregistered land to come forward. There is also a reduced fee for transfers or surrenders of the whole of land comprised in a registered title if using the Land Registry portal or Business Gateway (reduced by 55% compared with the fee for postal applications). There are no reduced fees for applications affecting part of a registered title or for registering leases, even when using the portal or Business Gateway.
Scale 2 includes transfers of ownership for no monetary value ie gifts of land, assents of land, and charges (legal mortgages).
Land Registry Fee Scale 2:
|Value of property or land||Postal fee||Transfer of whole, charges of whole, transfers of charges and other applications of whole of registered titles (apply using portal or Business Gateway)||Transfer of part and all other scale 2 applications that do not affect the whole of a registered title (apply using portal or Business Gateway)|
|£1,000,001 and over||£305||£140||£305|
The reduced fees cover applications made using the Land Registry portal or business gateway for:
- transfers or assents of whole
- charges of whole
- transfer of charges
Land Registry fees may be subject to change, so it is important to check you have the latest figures. If you do not pay the correct amount when making an application, this can delay registration.
It is important to note that the Land Registry fees are separate and in addition to any legal fees charged by solicitors for handling the land registration on your behalf.
How long does it take to register with the Land Registry?
This varies massively depending on the type of application. If a simple transfer from one party to another, then it could be resolved in as little as one day.
Where more complicated applications are involved, such as an application for first registration or an adverse possession application, it can take many months, even over a year, for the Land Registry to process.
You can request an expedited service from the Land Registry. This is only available if you can demonstrate that any delays would:
- cause personal or financial problems or hardship to you
- put a property sale or any type of property transaction at risk, such as a refinancing deal or development
You will need to provide evidence to support your request.
Common requisitions raised by the Land Registry
When you make an application for registration, the Land Registry may raise requisitions. Requisitions are formal requests by the Land Registry to supply information. According to the Land Registry itself, nearly half of all requisitions could have been avoided. Requisitions can vary from basic errors to legal issues.
Common requisitions include:
- Incomplete or missing documentation
The Land Registry may require omitted or revised documentation to complete the registration process. This includes a missing plan of the property, missing signatures on documents, or incorrectly completed forms.
- Incorrect or inconsistent information
If the Land Registry notes any errors or inconsistencies in the information you provided with your application, they may ask you to rectify these. This usually includes incorrect spelling of names or name changes that have not been evidenced.
- Failure to comply with legal or Land Registry requirements
This includes the incorrect or improper execution of deeds or documents, or submitting a property plan that does not comply with the Land Registry’s requirements to effect registration.
- Outstanding charges or mortgages
If there are charges or mortgages registered against the property, the Land Registry may require you to produce evidence of their discharge or consent from the charge holder or mortgagee to proceed.
- Restrictions on title
Where there are restrictions on the property title, you must provide evidence that these have been complied with or released by the beneficiary of the restriction. This includes obligations to enter into deeds of covenant with the person or body who benefits from the restriction.
- Boundary issues
Where there are discrepancies or disputes about the property’s boundary with neighbouring land, the Land Registry may require you to enter into a boundary agreement or commission a survey.
If you are using a solicitor to handle your land registration, ideally you will not experience delay due to avoidable requisitions, although there is always margin for human error.
Some requisitions are completely outside of our control and classified as ‘unavoidable’ by the Land Registry. This includes when the Land Registry asks for something unusual, obscure or related to historic requirements / non-contemporary documents. It could also be one-off questions made at their discretion, or simple clarifications that could not have been anticipated.
It is always helpful to speak with an experienced property solicitor to ensure compliance with any requisitions and avoid delays in registration.
Registering land with adverse possession
'Adverse possession' is the legal term for what is commonly known as ‘squatters’ rights’. This allows someone to claim ownership of land that has never been transferred to them.
There are three elements to successful adverse possession:
- The occupier must take possession of the property without the owner’s consent
- The possession must be made clear, for example by fencing off the land
- The occupier must intend to possess and use the land as their own
If the land in question is unregistered, the occupier must have occupied the land for a minimum of 12 years before being eligible to apply to register the land in their own name. For registered land, the minimum is 10 years.
What happens if someone tries to adversely possess my land?
If your land is registered, you will be notified about the claim for adverse possession by the Land Registry. You can then object to the application and a dispute process will begin. If you do not respond, the Land Registry may proceed to register the application.
How are adverse possession applications made?
Much the same process is followed as when registering land without deeds. A statutory declaration is prepared providing as much detail as possible about the history of ownership of the property. In particular, photographs of boundary structures and the property itself dating back as far as possible are particularly helpful towards a successful claim.
If a claim is successful, the Land Registry will register the land with ‘Possessory Title’. This is a record that the title is not guaranteed and could be challenged in the future. Once a title has been registered as possessory title for 12 years, a further application can be made to the Land Registry to request that it is upgraded to ‘Absolute Title’, which is the best form of title available.
Dealing with objections and challenges
Unfortunately, not all applications are straightforward. In general, anyone has the right to formally object to your application to register land, and the Land Registry will consider the merits of the objection. If the Land Registry deems the objection groundless, then it will proceed with your application. On the other hand, if the Land Registry finds the objection is warranted, then you will receive notice of the same.
Why would someone object to your registration?
Common reasons for this include:
- Ownership disputes: if someone believes that they are or should be the rightful owner of all or part of the land that you have applied to register - this includes someone in adverse possession
- Unregistered interests: anyone who benefits from rights that affect your land such as rights of way or restrictive covenants that are not registered
- Errors or omissions: if there are any incorrect details in your application, for eg neighbours may object to the boundaries or legal description of the land
- Fraud: if someone believes your application is fraudulent or you have misrepresented the facts
Resolving disputes or conflicting claims through legal channels
If you have received notice that someone has objected to your application to register land, and the Land Registry decides the objection may have merit – do not panic. There are various options and routes available to try and resolve the dispute:
- You can withdraw your application at any time, and likewise, the objector may withdraw the objection
- both parties can attempt to negotiate an agreement about how to deal with the objection and application for registration
- either party may decide to start court proceedings
Period for negotiation
The Land Registry encourages you to negotiate with the objector in an attempt to reach an agreement about the application. Many disputes are settled this way without the need for court action. If willing, you will be given a specified time to try to reach an agreement (usually around 6 months). The Land Registry will check on the progress, and may express their views on the merits of each party’s case. If you successfully reach an agreement, the Registrar will take this into account.
First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber)
If either party declines to engage in negotiations or you are unable to reach an agreement after a period for negotiation, then the matter must be referred to the Tribunal. The Tribunal is a completely independent body that hears issues relating to land registration matters. If either party disagrees with the Tribunal’s decision, there may be a right of appeal to a higher court, such as the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) or Court of Appeal, although this is rare.
Either party can choose to start court proceedings at any time during the process, or as a last resort. The Tribunal can also order one of the parties to do so if it believes this is the best course of action.
How we can help
Our specialist property litigation solicitors have plenty of experience advising and guiding land owners through all stages of land registration disputes. We have successfully represented both applicants and objectors during initial negotiations, at Tribunal and in court. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.
What happens if your registration is successful?
If your application to register your land at the Land Registry is successful, you will officially become the registered owner of the land. Your property will be given its own unique title number in the central database, which can be used to access information about your property. The Land Registry will also prepare a property register and, in most cases, a title plan. Any deeds or documents you provided when making your application will be recorded against your property title number.
The property register serves as proof of your ownership and is publicly available. It includes important details such as your name and address, the boundaries of the land, any mortgages or other charges on your property, any rights of way or other legal matters that affect it.
In summary, registering land with the Land Registry is compulsory if there is a change in ownership or it is mortgaged. You can also voluntarily opt to register your land. Although the process can sometimes be lengthy and costly, the benefits of registration arguably outnumber any negatives. A registered title deed serves as proof of your ownership, brings transparency and simplicity to conveyancing and financing, and acts as a safeguard against adverse possession claims. In essence, a successful land registration provides a sense of security and peace of mind for your property and its future.
If you need help registering your land, or have any questions about land registration, contact our commercial property solicitors today.