One of the most popular questions we are asked is who owns a particular piece of land or property. Usually, we can give the answer because it is registered and the details are readily available online or in some cases only by post.
But what about the bits which aren’t registered? How do you go about trying to find out who owns these?
Well, the simple answer is it will often come down to your own detective work, where the land or property is located in the country, and sometimes luck!
Over 80% of England and Wales is now registered and large parts of the land that aren’t are most likely to be owned by the Crown, the aristocracy, or the Church. The reason why it has never been registered is that it has never been sold, which is one of the main triggers for compulsory registration.
Some people think that unregistered land isn’t owned by anyone or refer to it as ‘no man’s land’. But this isn’t right. In England and Wales, all land is owned by somebody, even if the legal owner can’t be identified. For example, ownerless property (referred to as Bona Vacantia) can pass to the crown by law.
So, where to start?
Once you have checked and are sure that the land or property isn’t registered, then it is probably best to start your detective work in the surrounding area and make enquiries. You could:
- ask any neighbours or adjoining landowners whether they know who the owner(s) might be;
- ask local residents, who may have lived in the area for a number of years and who have ‘local knowledge’, to see if they have any ideas about who might own it;
- ask in the local pub, post office or shop;
- check adjoining registered properties for clues, they may refer to a deed or document which affected not only that registered title but also ‘other land’. The other land may have included the unregistered part and the deed/document will refer to the parties to the deed, which may give a clue as to the owner on a specific date;
- search county or local authority records for clues - Yorkshire and Middlesex have their own deeds registries, but to make a search you need to know the name of previous or current owners, whilst other counties have County Records Offices;
- check with your local authority to see if any planning applications have been submitted over the years. By law, applicants currently have to sign either a Certificate A to say they are the owner or Certificate B where they say they have served notice on the owner who they have to name; and
- check your local electoral register.
Online forums such as Money Saving Expert and Garden Law sometimes suggest ‘doing something’ to the property or the land, such as putting up a sign. This may or may not be appropriate, so before doing this, it's advisable to check with a solicitor if your actions would break any laws.