28 February 2019

Get off my land! At least I think it’s my land…

By Susan Matthews, Director, Hayes + Storr.

This is a phrase often associated with farmers but what if you cannot prove it is your land? In a rural county such as Norfolk, where large areas of land and many homes have remained in the same family for generations, it should come as little surprise that there are areas of land which are not registered at the Land Registry. What is surprising, is the amount of land and property which remains unregistered and how often people are unaware of it.

Compulsory registration only came to rural Norfolk in 1989 and even then this was only for purchases of land for value or leases for a term of over 21 years. In 1998, assents (transfers of the land after death) and legal mortgages became compulsory registerable and in 2002 it became compulsory for nearly all land transactions to be registered or, to trigger the first registration. Shorter-term arrangements, such as farm business tenancies and leases of less than seven years, do not have to be registered but, may need to be noted against the landlord’s freehold title.

In the absence of a land or property transaction to trigger the first registration, the land will remain unregistered unless a voluntary application is made to the Land Registry to register it. This may be considered an unwelcome hassle and cost, but there is a good argument for registering land and property, even if it is just to have a secure and clear record of what you own.

With unregistered farmland, there is often a field swapped with a neighbor many years ago and not formally recorded, or a change in a boundary agreed but not documented. Often, it is the older generation who has this knowledge and can provide evidence of ownership. It is therefore important that the registration process is undertaken whilst current or former owners or farm managers/workers can provide key facts vital for the registration process. This is particularly the case if title deeds are missing or have been lost or destroyed.

It is much harder to claim adverse possession or ‘squatters’ rights’ over registered property or for a neighbour to encroach onto your land. If you are looking to sell, gift or mortgage your land or property the process is much simpler and quicker (and often cheaper!) if dealing with a registered title.

The Land Registry is keen for land and property to be registered and offers a reduced fee for those registrations which are undertaken voluntarily. It may well be time to dig out those title deeds and consider an application to register your land.

If you would like to speak with a member of the agricultural or property team about registering your land or property, Hayes + Storr are holding free consultation days at their Fakenham and Swaffham offices during March. Please contact 01760 724424 if you would like to book a place. If you require further advice on this matter, please contact the agricultural team on 01760 724424.

This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek our specific advice.

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