Searching for the owner of unregistered land

Overgrown land; is it registered?

One question we're often asked is "Who owns that piece of land?".

We have over 25 million registered titles (records of land and property ownership) in England or Wales, so we can usually give you the answer. If you have the address, postcode, or title number of a property, you can search HM Land Registry records for £3.

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 that it will often come down to your own detective work, where the land or property is located in the country, and sometimes luck!

So, if you've checked whether the land or property is registered with us and found it isn't registered, what can you do next?

Get information about unregistered land

It's probably best to start your detective work in the surrounding area and make enquiries. You could:

  • ask neighbours or adjoining landowners if they know who the owner(s) might be;
  • ask local residents if they have any ideas about who might own it, as they may have lived in the area for a number of years and have ‘local knowledge’;
  • 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 (to make a search you need to know the name of previous or current owners), while other counties have County Records Offices;
  • check with the 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. Before doing this, I'd advise that you check with a solicitor whether your actions would break any laws.

About unregistered land

Over 85% of land and property in England and Wales is now registered with us. Much of the land owned by the Crown, the aristocracy, and the Church has not been registered, because 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, if a person dies without a Will or blood relatives, their land or property can pass to the crown by law (referred to as Bona Vacantia).

HM Land Registry is aiming to achieve comprehensive registration by 2030. If you want to register your own property, there is currently a 25% discount for voluntary first registrations.


  1. Comment by David Williams posted on

    A good starting point might be the 1910 Finance Act records:

    This is especially useful if you can use the information in conjunction with the Yorkshire and Middlesex deeds registries.

    • Replies to David Williams>

      Comment by Nick Arculus posted on

      In the Isle of Man we start with the 1867 Woods Atlas, a gazetteer of all land owners at that date (for Tax purposes). It is similar to the "England and Wales (Exclusive of the Metropolis) Return of Owners of Land 1873" which recorded all owners of more than 1 acres in E&W.

  2. Comment by Mel Catchpole posted on

    Hi there..

    I find the above very informative, BUT, What is the position with un-adopted no through roads that searches have been made on and no owner found. can the houses in the road make a claim for ownership of the land if it has been maintaining it for a period of years??

    • Replies to Mel Catchpole>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Mel - land is land so an unadopted road will still have a legal owner. Registering a claim of ownership of unregistered land is covered by our Practice Guide 5
      If you or you and your neighbours were looking at claiming the land then I would strongly recommend seeking legal advice

      • Replies to AdamH>

        Comment by Lily H posted on

        Adam - we are in a similar position to Mel and I have read the guidelines from your link but wanted to clarify whether a squatter needed to have 'exclusive' use of the land to apply to claim possession of it?
        We live along a private unadopted lane and our Land Registry title shows that our property owns a large section of the lane but the first section from the highway to our section does not appear to be registered to anyone as I have checked the Land Registry titles of the other two properties that bounder the lane. We have exclusively maintained and resurfaced the whole lane for the past 14 years but have now encountered issues with a tenant parking along the 'unregistered' section in a building that does not even front onto this lane - he is blocking access to emergency vehicles to our property and the others. We would like to formally be registered as proprietors of this section of lane so that we can install some posts or something similar. Thanks

        • Replies to Lily H>

          Comment by AdamH posted on

          lily H - our PGs 4 and 5 explain the 'essentials' as we see them and will help here.
          The law is very complex so it is important to get legal advice before taking any action whether to claim the land or a right or do works etc

          • Replies to AdamH>

            Comment by Lily H posted on

            Thank you AdamH - we will seek legal advice but just had a quick glance over your 'essentials' link and hopefully we qualify to apply to more simply alter the title with an AP1 as our property dates back to 1872 and is by far the oldest along the lane in question - plus we still have the remnants of the wall for the original stable block in our curtilage which the lane would have originally serviced. Fingers crossed - thanks for your help. Sam

  3. Comment by Terry posted on

    So if I wants to find all the Unregistered land there must be a way of finding it via the LR office as the opposite of the registered land...but is CROWN LAND. Also registered ?

    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Terry - there is no central record of unregistered land. Some Crown land will be registered but not all of it.

  4. Comment by Daniel posted on

    Please can someone outline whose responsibility it is to maintain over grown trees on a river bank adjacent to my leasehold property. Thank you in advance.

    • Replies to Daniel>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Daniel - I suspect you would start with the landowner and the National Rivers Authority to see if they will take responsibility. Legal advice may be needed to establish what rights yyou have and what responsibilities the landowner or NRA may have also

      • Replies to AdamH>

        Comment by Andrew Rudge posted on

        The NRA was disbanded in 1996 and it's responsibilities assumed by the Environment Agency.

    • Replies to Daniel>

      Comment by Andrew Rudge posted on

      I also live along a watercourse, and the Environment Agency have made it very clear that i have riparian responsibilities, that means it is my responsibility that the banks are maintained, damaged trees are maintained and the watercourse kept free of debris and obstructions.
      So, its the landowners responsibility.

  5. Comment by rupert Welchman posted on

    Hi there, thanks for adding all this useful information.
    I am trying to find the correct procedure to register a tiny parcel of land. This triangle of no more than 2ft at its deepest tapering to a point and 10ft long is wedged between our field (registered) and the road. Why it is not included within our boundaries of the field is a mystery. However, we have been advised that once we have satisfied ourselves that it isn't registered to anyone else, we should register it ourselves. I have indeed checked that it is unregistered. So on to the next step. Would you agree with this logic. And how would I now go about registered our ownership?

  6. Comment by Jamie Jenkins posted on

    Hi, recently I contacted you hoping that you could find out who owned the lane at the rear of our terraced street which serves about 45houses, some houses but not all have garages which are in daily use. It seems that the land is unregistered and your research revealed no owners. But I have a feeling that it could be owned by the National Coal Board, as many years ago I can remember them building a retaining wall at the boundary to their coal plant, but they also cleaned and tidied up the lane in question. If I contacted them are they bound to tell me if they own it, and if so are they responsible for the repair and upkeep of the lane.

    • Replies to Jamie Jenkins>

      Comment by ianflowers posted on

      Jamie - We essentially have an administrative role in registering ownership and other interests in land and so cannot advise as to whether they would be under an obligation to answer your enquiry and also whether they are under an obligation for the lane's repair and upkeep.

      You may want to consider getting independent legal advice from Citizen's Advice or from a legal professional such as a solicitor.

  7. Comment by Fiona Mack posted on

    Hello, my query is a public footpath that runs along outside the boundary wall of my property. Somebody told my husband years ago that our territory extends to 5 feet outside our wall (as yet I have no proof) and therefore partly across the footpath. Beyond the footpath and forming a northern boundary is the M40 and a strip of land belonging to Highways for England. I believe there may be an unregistered strip between us and HfE. How can I find out if this is so? I am interested because I would like to extend our drivelway along the route of the path to have legal traffic access to the far end of our land, which is further along the footpath. I have no wish to restrict use to the footpath in any way. Indeed, our present driveway is and has been part of said footpath for many years.

    • Replies to Fiona Mack>

      Comment by ianflowers posted on

      Fiona - If you have not already done so, you can check the title plan for your property, if registered. But bear in mind that it will only show the general position of your boundaries as the exact position of legal boundaries is left undefined.

      It will be difficult to get exact confirmation on the extent of unregistered land as, for example, we wouldn't have any information on this. You could try checking as to the general position regarding the titles that are registered - .

      Select the Map enquiry option and use a road or village/town to search, and once you get a map of the area, change the options at the top of the map from Ordnance Survey Map to Birds Eye View. This should enable you to search the land you are interested in more clearly.

      Once you have identified the land concerned, zoom in on the map until you are able to use the 'Find properties' button on bottom left corner of the map. Click on the area that you are interested, which if the land is registered with us, will then list details of land / property information available.

      Other possible sources of information on unregistered land include:
      • National Archives –,
      • County record offices, and
      • Local libraries.

      I hope this of some assistance to you.


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