May 18

Whose land is it anyway?


Over 80% of England and Wales is registered with the Land Registry. The Register for each piece of land sets out who the legal owner is (who has ‘title’ to the piece of land), the extent of the land and any rights of third parties over the piece of land. The remaining 20% of England and Wales has never been registered, mainly because it has never been sold.

If you wish to find out who owns a piece of land in Chichester or Alton, an online search will often reveal the answer. If the land is unregistered it can take a lot more time and effort.
The Crown, aristocracy or the Church owns the majority of land that is not registered in England and Wales. There is no such thing as ‘no-man’s-land’. All land is owned by someone, even if it’s not immediately apparent who this is.

When people die intestate (without a Will) and without known kin (entitled blood relatives) the Treasury Solicitor acts for the Crown to administer their estate, and ownership of any land or property would pass to the Crown. This is known to as Bona Vacantia, which means ‘vacant goods’. The Treasury Solicitor also collects the assets of dissolved companies and other various ownerless goods in England and Wales.

To help you locate the owner of a piece of land you might consider the following:

  • Speak to local residents or adjoining landowners
  • Ask local shopkeepers, postmen or pub landlords
  • Check whether any planning applications have been submitted to the Chichester or Alton local authority in the past, as landowners have to be named on applications
  • Search West Sussex or Hampshire county or local authority records (if available)
  • Check the local electoral register
  • Check with the Land Registry for adjoining properties that are registered. They may refer to a deed or document which affected not only that registered title but also the unregistered adjoining land, which may give a clue as to a past owner

If you own a piece of unregistered land, you may only become aware that it is unregistered when you decide to sell, transfer or mortgage the land, or check boundaries or third party rights. If you own a piece of unregistered land it is possible to sell the land as unregistered. However a buyer’s solicitor may insist that the land is registered before their client proceeds with the purchase.

A number of reasons for this include:

  • Once land is registered you have more security over your land. The Land Registry set out an official description of the land and the rights and obligations that affect the land. The Land Registry will also provide an up to date plan of the property based on the latest Ordnance Survey Map.
  • Registered land also means that you are much better protected against squatters or encroaching neighbours claiming ownership of your land.
  • Once the land is registered at the Land Registry, evidence of your ownership can no longer be lost. All the time the property remains unregistered, the Deeds that you hold are extremely important, as they are the only proof you have that you do own the land. Therefore, if a fire occurred wherever the Deeds are being held then your ownership is a lot harder to prove.
  • The Land Registry will usually accept a Statutory Declaration confirming that you do own the land, however, this will not always provide for all the rights to which you are entitled.
  • Proof of ownership cannot be lost once land is Registered as the Land Registry hold all records of registered land, including all copies of documents that affect the land. Old deeds are therefore less likely to be needed for future transactions.
  • The Land Registry has reduced its fee by 25% for voluntary first registration of a property to encourage registration of unregistered title. The registration fee is based on the value of the land. Therefore an up to date valuation would be required.

For more information about buying, selling or registering land in West Sussex or Hampshire call our Chichester office on 01243 850860 or our Alton office on 01420 544 273.