Check title small print before finalising your property purchase
If you own property but have no deeds to prove your ownership, you may hold possessory title to that property – and land registered in this way is more commonplace than you might think. Although possessory title often relates to small parcels of land rather than houses or entire plots it is possible that a substantial part of a property, or in some cases the whole property, is registered in this way.
There are a variety of reasons for possessory title ownership; perhaps the original deeds were lost or inadvertently destroyed. In this situation an owner may apply to formalise their ownership by putting together a statutory declaration that sets out the basis for their application. Copies of any existing documents should be included in the application along with an explanation of why the remaining documents are missing, although success is not guaranteed. Alternatively, if you have been in possession of unregistered land for more than 12 years or registered land for more than ten years, you may be may be able to make an application for absolute title based on squatter’s rights.
If you are considering buying property currently held under possessory title, it is wise to establish the reason for a lack of deeds. If the documents are simply lost, the seller has occupied the land for many years, and a sworn statement confirming original ownership is available, your purchase will be less risky than buying land from an owner claiming squatter’s rights.
If you do buy land from a squatting occupier, there may be a risk that the true owner will come forward with a better claim for title. If such a claim were successful, you would have no right to compensation even if you had developed the land in the meantime and although it is possible to insure against such risks, bespoke indemnity policies come at a significant cost.
If you are the owner of land that is currently unregistered, it is well worth considering proceeding with a voluntary registration in case your deeds are lost or destroyed in the future – and good title is imperative before the start of any development work.
Professional and timely legal advice is important whenever you are considering a land purchase, especially in the light of concerns about possessory title. George Ide’s specialist property lawyers are experienced in reviewing title – for expert advice, contact the team on 01243 876668 or write in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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