This is when the eyes of property managers can glaze over in confusion, when they need to wade through land registry titles to understand how a property is legally owned or let.
Often it’s a case of jumping to the pretty-picture of the plan at the back to see what’s included, or maybe the owner’s name of the property at the top. But it’s when you talk about rights of this, that, and the other when you need legal help.
Seven Land Registry Basics
That’s certainly true that solicitors and legal input can help truly get to the bottom of things, however having a basic knowledge of property titles does still help.
This can help narrow-down issues straight away, or even when solicitors are in the midst of searches you can help come up with other considerations that may not have been looked at.
And often this crops up suddenly and becomes very urgent, maybe when a sale or letting is happening, or when someone does go through some title details which do tend to be more immediately available now with the digital age and registration with Land Registry.
So here are seven of the basics for any property manager to bottom-out when considering title issues.
1. The Title Documents
Straight off the bat, the important piece of information here is the “Land Registry Title” which is basically a summary of what issues there are with any plot of land.
This is different to the actual transfer details or long leases, which are the nuts-and-bolts of how a particular freehold, leasehold or other property transaction took place.
These title summaries are easily available online to anyone now for a few pounds, just search for the title and address and watch out for the correct one. The detailed transfer, lease, or deed details will require a separate request from land registry.
From 2003 there was a change to encourage more automatic registration of transfers with Land Registry as a final go-to portal for all land and property ownership information in the country.
However, for really old ones that don’t require this, everything hinges on someone still having the original documents to refer to, failing which you’ve got serious issues in proving things.
Turning back to the Land Registry Titles, there are three important sections – the Property Register, Proprietorship Register, and Charges Register. There may be some over lap of information of these, but the overall gist is to first identify the actual property and land in question, then who owns it and how, and then any charges and issues connected with it.
2. The Plans
This is the easier part to identify, with hopefully a clear red-boundary around the piece of land in question. Although make sure this always matches reality, an example being where residential leases don't include the loft space.
You probably need to request these separate to the main title summary, therefore make sure various copies refer to the correct title number.
Also, when you first submit these within sales or leases, there are stricter requirements for these being in a certain format, which can mean costly new plans being designed for new deals if you’re not careful.
When you have one, then the golden rule is to check that this is correct both in reality as well as on paper. Makes sure the boundaries match actual ones in real life, otherwise boundary disputes can soon arise.
Any other different coloured parts of the plan must also be easily linked to what’s referred to in the main title, particularly regarding any other adjacent rights.
3. Double-Whammy Liabilities
The Title should state what form of ownership the title is of the land in question – absolute title ideally, possessory title, qualified title, or good leasehold title.
However, there are two situations where even the ownership of the land itself can be under question, and all down to the whether or not the paper-owner is the real-life owner.
Firstly, there’s something called Adverse Possession you can find out more about here where other exclusive users over at least ten years can begin to claim actual ownership of the land believe it or not.
The second is what they call the registration gap. So with a freehold sale or lease transfer, the actual document may well have competed, but then it takes time to send details to Land Registry to log this on the title.
So in this gap, although the new owner or tenant may be the one in reality, they’re not yet the fully-legal one until it’s noted on Land Registry. So problems begin if say notices are mistakenly sent to an old owner because the new one hasn’t yet been noted, or vice versa.
This is something that does what it says on the tin; restrict the title being changed.
So the proprietor of the title won’t be able to dispose of the interest and log a valid transaction at Land Registry until this restriction is dealt with. If you therefore have a good reason or other interested party who wants to have a say in things, this can be a helpful thing to have.
A good example is maybe a management company of other shared land where there is a Deed to pay towards running costs. A Restriction on the title saying the owner can’t transfer without the written agreement of the management company can therefore be a home win.
You may also have a bank charge restriction as well, although these are also covered later.
In terms of lifting the restriction, a Certificate of Compliance may be required from the party causing the restriction, which basically says they’re happy with the transfer to go ahead, and is sent to the Land registry with the new registration to prove.
These are linked with restrictions really, and more to do with a registered charge over the title regarding monies due.
So a bank with a mortgage and lending is a classic here, and being able to make sure they have priority-payment of monies in a sale because this charge ties the debt to the title.
You can therefore have more than one charge, however in date priority meaning preference over others.
These relate to the connection between this piece of land and another, and rights that they have over it.
Common ones are rights of access and way, for example over another private access road to reach the plot in question. Others include natural-light levels, and services reaching a property as well.
Ideally these are all nicely registered with the title so that any new owners know exactly what they get with it, however it can get complicated with implied prescriptive easements that can crop up and be inferred in certain conditions and time frames.
7. Restrictive Covenants
Finally, restrictive covenants focus on negative things that you aren’t allowed to do with the land. So maybe you can’t use the building for a certain use.
If you want to look at positive things, i.e. what the landowner needs to do rather than not do, then these will often need separate agreements, or more personal covenants that may also be noted on the title relating just to the unique parties of the land.
These restrictive ones are therefore legally said to ‘run’ with and ‘bind’ the land during transactions, and focus on actually benefiting one party and being a burden to another.
Some good news here however is that if such restrictive covenants no longer really apply, then you can apply to the Land Tribuneral to have them look at being discharged and declared obsolete.
Ensure You’re Covered
These seven principles of land titles and ownership details are key to begin to understand how property is truly owned, occupied, and used by various people.
After all, no matter what is claimed, it always boils down to what legal rights exist in order to determine things. The real skill of property management is therefore marrying the legal theory with the practical management of the property.
Whether you’re a landlord owner getting to grips with what rights and land exist, or an occupier needing to know what they can and can’t do with the land, or an advisor stuck in the middle advising – this is important to know about, and earlier on the better.
Even if you do start seeing problems, and after all the checks in the world you’re still not sure what issues may crop up, then you can at least get things covered.
So maybe all carefully drafted in legal documents, or even taking out title insurance to cover any liabilities that come up afterwards. Although these don’t tend to work if there’s a claim already emerging, it can still be worth arranging if you know it’s a complicated one with the potential to come back and bite afterwards.
Dealing with now may save a lot of heartache later.
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