What to Do If You Can’t Find Property Title Deeds
29 December 2016
If you want to sell a property in the UK your Conveyancing Solicitor will check at the Land Registry if the property is registered. If it is registered your Conveyancing Solicitor will obtain a copy of the title and issue this with the contract to the buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitor.
If however the Conveyancing Solicitor advises the property is not registered with the Land Registry, in order to sell the property you will need to locate the bundle of unregistered deeds. Consider these initial steps:
- Does the property have a current mortgage? If so your Conveyancing Solicitor will request the lender details and account number and write to the lender for the deeds pack.
- Did the property have a previous mortgage which has been repaid? On occasion some lenders will retain deeds if a mortgage has recently been paid or they will retain a balance of a penny on the account. It is worthwhile checking old documents to understand if there was a mortgage.
- Does the owner have the title deeds with their Will? An owner may have placed their deeds with their Will. If you do not know where the Will was drafted consider writing to local law firms who may retain the original Will and title deeds. You can also reach out to local accountants as some people leave their deeds and Will with accountants who may deal with their finances.
- If the owner is still alive check if they recall receiving a bundle of documents when they purchased the property. Speak to the law firm who acted at the time of the purchase to see if they have any information, can supply any copy documents or have actually retained the deeds.
If you have exhausted all avenues and you cannot locate the title deeds you may need to consider applying for a Reconstitution of Title with the Land Registry. This can be a long drawn out process and you should only consider this avenue if you have tried all others.
Reconstitution of Title
The Land Registry has special procedures and processes that need to be followed when an application for a reconstitution of title is lodged, these are contained in Rule 27 of the Land Registration Rules 2003 and subject to the application, section 9(5) of the Land Registration Act 2002. Your Conveyancing Solicitor will be familiar with these rules and guide you through the process.
Your Conveyancing Solicitor will take instructions from you to understand why the deeds have been lost and the circumstances surrounding the loss, they will prepare a statement which is referred to as a Statement of Truth or a Statutory Declaration. Your Conveyancing Solicitor may ask for other relatives or neighbours to also provide a Statement of Truth to support the application. The Statement should explain the following circumstances:
- Who had possession of the deeds when they were lost or destroyed?
- Why did the person have possession of the deeds and what was the surrounding circumstances of their loss/destruction?
- What steps have been taken to recover the deeds?
- If at the time of the loss was there a mortgage on the property?
- Is the applicant in occupation of the property?
- Why is the applicant entitled to apply for the registration?
Once your Conveyancing Solicitor has gathered all of the evidence an application will be made to the Land Registry. It will also help if you are able to identify the property on an Ordnance Survey map and send this as part of the application. The Land Registry, as part of their review may require an inspection of the property, if this is the case an additional fee will be payable.
To support any Statement of Truth it is also necessary to attempt to reconstitute the title by providing the Land Registry with certified copy documents of perhaps the draft conveyance transferring the property into the owner’s name. You may have copy or draft deeds with a bundle of documents but not the original deed.
If this is the case you can send this to the Land Registry to support the application. If you know who acted on behalf of the owner at the time of their purchase you can also contact them and ask if they have information on their file, although they may have destroyed their file given the length of time since the purchase. You can also contact any mortgage lender who may have had a mortgage on the property and ask for a copy of the legal charge to the owner which will also strengthen the application.
A lesser quality of evidence could be receipts for paid taxes such as copies of estate duty, receipts for rates or taxes or even insurance premiums.
Evidence of Possession
As part of the Statement of Truth and accompanying documentation the Land Registry will need to establish if the applicant is in possession of the property. This information is required if possessory title is being applied for and a requirement under Section 9(5) of the Land Registration Act 2002. Evidence to confirm possession can be a utility bill or council tax demand and must form part of the application to the Land Registry.
If the land in question does not include a property or any rent the Statement of Truth should set out how the applicant is in possession of the land.
Reconstitution of Title Checklist
When making an application for lost or destroyed deeds consider this checklist:
- Can you identify the land on an Ordnance Survey map
- Gather as much information from the applicant, neighbours, accountants, previous Conveyancing Solicitors etc., and draft as a Statement of Truth or Statutory Declaration to form part of the application.
- Confirm what steps have been taken to locate the lost deeds.
- Confirm there is no charge or lien on the property.
- Include evidence of possession and accompanying documentation.
- Include any certified documentation proving title in an attempt to reconstruct the title and ownership.
It is not a guarantee by applying to the Land Registry that title will be perfected. However, the more information that can be gathered to support the application the quicker the Land Registry will be able to make their decision.
It is only when the title has been reconstituted that a property can be sold. There is no timeframe for the Land Registry to review the application and make a decision. Your Conveyancing Solicitor will keep you informed of progress of the application and if further information is required.
It is important to understand the process and also obtain a quote from your Conveyancing Solicitor before proceeding as it can be expensive.