A Thorough Guide to Title Deeds

What are they, who has them and how can you find, check and change them ...

Title Deeds on a Monopoly Board

Image by John Morgan CC BY 2.0

The closest most people get to seeing title deeds is when they play Monopoly, yet these documents are essential for establishing ownership of property and land in England and Wales. But what exactly are title deeds, who has them and how can you find, check and change title deeds on your property? Here is a quick guide to their most commonly asked questions.

Please note that the following information applies to England and Wales only, with separate laws and systems applying in Scotland and Northern Ireland.


ABOUT YOUR TITLE DEEDS

What are title deeds?

The title deed for your home sets out the tenure (freehold or leasehold), the boundaries and the legal ownership. It also includes any covenants, such as restrictions on use and rights of access, as well as any charges on your property, such as those by a bank or mortgage lender.

What are title deeds used for?

Title deeds are the final word in any legal dispute, and are used to definitively establish who owns the land, who has rights of access and who has a charge or financial interest in the property. That said, title deeds can rarely identify precise boundaries, and unless boundaries are appropriately marked, they will not identify who is responsible for boundary maintenance, such as who owns the fence and their repairs. In the case of boundary disputes, it is best to consult the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors boundary dispute helpline on 02476 868555.

What are the different types of title deed?

There are two types of title deeds: title absolute and possessory title (sometimes known as qualified title). Possessory title is often awarded where the original title deeds have been lost and absolute title cannot be definitively proven.

Can I upgrade possessory title?

Under section 62(4) and (5) of the Land Registration Act 2002, possessory title can normally be upgraded to title absolute after a period of 12years if no one has challenged the possessory title. This can be done online at the government website, for a fee of £20.

Watch: A quick summary of title deeds:


HM LAND REGISTRY

What is HM Land Registry?

Contrary to popular belief, HM Land Registry is not a Harry Potter style dusty library filled with thousands of ancient documents. In fact, the Land Registry rarely hold original title deeds at all. When a property is registered, the deeds are scanned and returned to the solicitor or person who applied for the registration.

How do I register property with HM Land Registry?

Most properties will already be registered with HM Land Registry, but if your property is not, then you must register it when you first take ownership. You can do this online by completing form FR1 and supplying the relevant details, including the title deeds. The fee for first registry varies according to property type and is currently £60 for a £100,000 property and £140 for a £200,000 property.

Why should I register with HM Land Registry?

Registration has many advantages for home owners, not only keeping your title deed information safe, but also making it easy to access and amend as your circumstances change. Registering your property will speed up the paperwork on any future sale.


FINDING YOUR TITLE DEEDS

Who holds your title deeds?

In many cases, title deeds are held by your solicitor or conveyancer who acted on your behalf during the sale, or they may be held by your bank or mortgage provider. However, since the Land Registry began storing title deeds electronically, many original title deeds have become lost or mislaid over numerous sales and original documents can be hard to track down.

How can you find title deeds?

If your home is registered with the Land Registry, then you do not need your original title deeds. The Land registry will hold a scan of the documents, and this forms the legal title to your property. The original deeds may be interesting to own, and are often highly decorative, but they are not necessary in the modern era.

You can find registered title deeds quickly and easily by searching for your property online and requesting copies of your title deeds. The title deeds come in two parts: Title Register and Title Plan.

A typical Title Register is a document that records ownership, covenants, dates of purchase and price, charges, and title number, whereas a typical Title Plan is a map highlighting the extent of the property and land, along with the boundaries, rights of way and ordinance survey reference.

What does it cost to get a copy of title deeds?

You can order a copy of your Title Plan or Title Register online for £3 each, however these are provided for information only. For legal purposes, you will need to order HM Land Registry Official Copies for £7 each, by sending off form OC1.

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COVENANTS

What are title deed covenants?

Title deed covenants are legal restrictions on what you can and cannot do with your property. These cover issues like using the property for business purposes or making changes to the property such as building an extension or converting to flats. Covenants may also be used to protect access required through a property, or may even detail how a property is maintained in order to preserve the character of the neighbourhood. Whatever the detail, a covenant is legally binding and you could face severe penalties if you breach it.

What if I break a restrictive covenant?

If you break a covenant, then the consequences can be significant. For example, if you undertake building work that breaches a covenant, then you may be forced to demolish it and pay a fine for the breach. However, if a covenant is breached an no one complains, then you may get away with it, and ultimately be able to get the covenant lifted. After 12months you will be able to obtain restrictive covenant indemnity insurance to cover any costs.

Can a have a restrictive covenant lifted?

Many restrictive covenants on title deeds are unenforceable due to their age, the ambiguous language used or the fact that they no longer apply. In this case you can normally ignore them without worrying about the consequences. If you feel a restrictive covenant is unfair or unreasonable, but are concerned about breaching it, then you can apply to have it lifted by the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal. However, this is a lengthy and expensive process and it is much better to avoid buying properties with covenants in the first place.

Who is responsible for checking title deeds?

Your solicitor or conveyancer is legally responsible for checking the title deeds to see if there are any covenants. If they fail to spot a covenant, or fail to bring it to your attention, you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman, however the maximum compensation they can offer is £50,000, which may not be sufficient to cover your resulting losses.


CHANGING TITLE DEEDS

How do I add or remove a name from title deeds?

There are many circumstances in which you want to add or remove a name from your title deeds. For example, if you get married or divorced, enter or leave a civil partnership, or if you want to add or remove a person for any other reason. This can be done quickly and easily online by completing an application to change the register. This costs £20 online or £40 by post for a standard application.

Can I change a name on title deeds?

You can change your name on title deeds by completing form AP1 and providing the relevant documentation, such as a marriage certificate, deed poll certificate or a sworn declaration. You can also change your gender on title deeds using form CNG and providing appropriate proof of the change.

Can I remove my mortgage lender from the title deeds?

Normally, your mortgage lender will automatically inform the Land Registry when you have finished paying your mortgage. If they do not, you can apply to have them removed by completing form AP1 as detailed above.


TITLE DEEDS AND HOUSE SALES

Should I buy a house without title deeds?

When buying a property without full title deeds, you should proceed with extreme caution. The phrase caveat emptor, or buyer beware, strongly applies here, and you should encourage your solicitor to be as thorough as possible. A few hundred extra in legal fees could save you thousands in the long run. Always ask for indemnity insurance from the seller to cover any potential problems with covenants that might not be clear in a possessory title deed.

Can I sell a house without title deeds?

It is possible to sell your home without title deeds, but the process will be much more complicated as detailed searches will need to be completed to satisfy the buyer’s solicitors. You will often be obliged to apply for possessory title deeds by providing proof that you have a legal ownership of the property. Alternatively, you can provide a statutory declaration to the buyer (and their mortgage lender).

The extra work and risk involved will inevitably mean that selling without title absolute will affect your property value.

It may be simpler to use a professional property purchasing company, such as Yes Homebuyers, who have vast experience of all kinds of property sales and can proceed much quicker than a standard solicitor is able to. Call Kelvin on 0808 250 6798 to find out what they can do for you.