Since the compulsory registration of land became a requirement under the Land Registration Act 1925, and later the Land Registration Act 2002, the presence of unclaimed or unregistered land in the UK has rapidly decreased. According to sources at the Land Registry more than 80% of land in England and Wales is now registered. Within this area of law the term “land” refers to land, buildings or both.
Despite this decrease, there is still unregistered and unclaimed land in the UK. You just need to know where to look and what to do with it.
Difference between unregistered land and unclaimed land
Unregistered land: this will likely be a building, land, or both, that, despite being legally owned has not been bought, sold or had any other transactions since the compulsory registration date for your area. From this date any such transaction will have triggered a compulsory first registration of the unregistered land. The legal owner should have documents, often referred to as Title Deeds. These show how the land came to belong to them. This is usually through a Conveyance, Assignment or Assent. To register the land an application can be made to the Land Registry with these Title Deeds.
Unclaimed land: unclaimed land can be either registered or unregistered and can arise in a few circumstances, the most common of which are:
- Land that has fallen out of use and has been abandoned;
- Land where there is confusion over the true ownership. Therefore the nearby property owners, or even the actual owner themselves, do not use it.
In the examples above it is possible to acquire this land as your own by adverse possession. Regardless of whether the land is currently registered or unregistered.
The benefits of registering unregistered land or claiming land
Registering unregistered Land:
- Registered land, in most cases, is simpler and quicker to transfer as most of the property details are held at the Land Registry as opposed to on paper Title Deeds;
- Lower legal costs, as the review of old Title Deeds is time-consuming and registration reduces this;
- Boundary disputes arise less often, as an identifiable title plan is registered with the Land Registry and people are less likely to encroach on your property;
- The likelihood of a claim for adverse possession, as discussed below, is significantly reduced.
Claiming unclaimed Land:
- You will obtain the legal title to the land, which you can then sell or even develop;
- You will extend your current property title, increasing its value.
How do you know whether land is unregistered or unclaimed?
Unregistered land: the Land Registry offer a service which can be used to check and confirm whether the land is registered.
Unclaimed land: the following factors are all indicators that land may be unclaimed. However, they do not necessarily guarantee that the land is unclaimed or abandoned.
- The property or any building is in very poor condition, in need of serious repair and has boarded up windows and doors;
- Gardens at the property are overgrown, unkempt or even used for tipping rubbish;
- The property has been uninhabited for a long period of time and the neighbours are not aware of anyone living there.
When it comes to checking whether the land is unclaimed or not, there is no set process and it comes down to personal research. If you are carrying out research make sure you check with the Land Registry and any neighbours. If you are in any doubt, it’s best to speak to a solicitor as they can help you research the land and avoid unnecessary disputes.
Registering unregistered land
If you have your Title Deeds, we can piece together how you came to be the owner of the land. In most cases you need to show a chain of ownership for at least 15 years of “good title”. This can be just your ownership or an unbroken chain of ownership between you and previous owners.
We can then submit an application to the Land Registry for the land to be officially registered in your name.
Claiming and possessing unclaimed land
When making a claim to own unclaimed land, known as claiming adverse possession, you need to have:
- ‘Factual’ or exclusive possession of the land. For example, fencing off an area of land as your own;
- ‘Intention to possess’ the land, shown by a combination of ‘factual’ possession and other actions to exclude all others from ownership;
- Possession of the land without consent. Meaning you cannot acquire land where the owner has given you permission to use it. Doing this it would mean you are acknowledging that another person owns the land.
In addition, you must have been doing the above for an uninterrupted period of 10-12 years.
For unregistered land, once you have reached the required 12 years and satisfied the above conditions, you may make an application to the Land Registry. If successful, you will become the new registered owner of the land.
Where the relevant land is registered land, the person adversely possessing this land is entitled to apply for ownership after 10 years of satisfying the criteria above. However upon doing this, the Land Registry will notify the current registered owner, which will allow them to object, making it harder to possess registered land adversely. If the current owner does not oppose the application, you will be entered on the legal title as the registered owner.