Alison Fielden & Co explain what happens when you lose deeds.
How serious is it to lose deeds? (It depends). Can anything be done about it? (Usually yes). What exactly are deeds anyway? (see next paragraph).
Deeds are documents which prove ownership. They should show a complete record of transfers of ownership for 15 years or more from one owner to the next up until the current owner. There may have been purchases (evidenced by conveyances) or inheritance (evidenced by probate and assent). The deeds will also include mortgages of the property and evidence of their being paid off.
Since 1925 there has been a central government record of property ownership at the Land Registry. If the property is registered at the Land Registry then the Land Registry record is the official evidence of ownership and the deeds (for that purpose at least) are redundant.
If property is registered therefore loss of deeds will not prevent an owner from selling or mortgaging.
If the property is not registered then there may be a problem if the owner wants to sell. There are still unregistered properties today because the criteria for compulsory registration do not cover every kind of change of ownership. For instance if a property has been inherited by successive beneficiaries and there has been no sale since 1925 the property may not have been registered.
In this case after checking that the deeds really are lost (they may be at a bank or solicitor’s office) an application can be made to the Land Registry to register a provisional title (“possessory” title). A sworn statement needs to be sent to the Land Registry together with whatever evidence can be found, ideally copy deeds, possibly evidence from a solicitor’s file and ID evidence of the current owner.
A possessory title can later be upgraded to an absolute title if nobody has a better claim to the property.
Sometimes most of the deeds are present on first registration but others are not. If the absent deed is known to contain covenants or other matters which should still affect the property the Land Registry will note on the register that the deed was not produced on first registration. This can cause queries on sale but these can usually be solved by the seller paying for an indemnity insurance policy for the buyer’s benefit.
For more detailed information on how to register where deeds are lost please see Land Registry Practice Guide 2 on the Land Registry website or feel free to contact us Alison Fielden & Co The Gatehouse, Dollar Street, Cirencester GL7 2AN Telephone number 01285 653261.