Since 1990 property transactions have been registered by HM Land Registry. This register is used to prove who owns which property. So although Deeds contain important information about the property, they are no longer required to prove legal ownership.
Why Do We Have Deeds?
In the past there was no central register for property so ownership of your home was proved by your purchase Deed. The Deed would have shown either that you owned the land (if it was a freehold property) or that you had the right to occupy the land for the duration of the lease (if it was a leasehold property). This would have been accompanied by the Deeds and documents of previous owners, which contained details such as restrictions on the use of the land (usually set out in a “covenant”) and if there were any mortgages on the property. The Deeds would be kept by the owner or their mortgage lender (if there was a mortgage).
From the late 1890s some areas on London began keeping central records of land ownership and counties in England and Wales slowly brought in compulsory registration. Eventually the government made it compulsory for the majority of land transactions to be registered, and all sales should have been registered by December 1990. Once a property sale has been registered, the records of ownership are kept by HM Land Registry.
Do I Need My Deeds to Sell My Property?
If your house purchase took place before it was compulsory to register the transaction, your Deeds will still be your evidence of ownership. Once the property is sold or gifted to someone else (or other events occur which require the property to be registered) the Deeds must be sent to HM Land Registry. If this is not done within 2 months, the property will not have been legally transferred to the new owner.
Once the Deeds arrive at HM Land Registry they are reviewed. The Land Registry take a copy of the Deeds and a new “Title” is created. The Title will have its own number and will contain details about the property and the owner as well as whether any covenants or mortgages are in place.
Once the Title is registered the Land Registry will return the original Deeds to the person or company who made the application. This is usually your Conveyancer. The Deeds will no longer be evidence of ownership, instead ownership of the property is proved by supplying an official copy of the Title.
The legal Title to the property is then guaranteed by the Land Registry and if the Title is incorrect you may be able to seek compensation. As such, these days the Deeds are of less legal importance but may still have historic or sentimental value. There may also be items in the Deeds that are of interest to a future purchaser, for example previous plans.
If you are buying a home with a mortgage, the mortgage lender may request that the Deeds are stored with them, otherwise they can be returned to you.
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