https://hmlandregistry.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/05/search-owner-unregistered-land/

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.

57 comments

  1. Comment by David Williams posted on

    A good starting point might be the 1910 Finance Act records:
    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/valuation-office-survey-land-value-ownership-1910-1915/

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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??

    Reply
    • 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 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adverse-possession-of-1-unregistered-land-and-2-registered-land
      If you or you and your neighbours were looking at claiming the land then I would strongly recommend seeking legal advice

      Reply
      • 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

        Reply
        • 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. https://www.gov.uk/topic/land-registration/practice-guides
          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

          Reply
          • 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 ?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
      • Replies to AdamH>

        Comment by Andrew Rudge posted on

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

        Reply
    • Replies to Daniel>

      Comment by Andrew Rudge posted on

      Daniel.
      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.

      Reply
  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?
    Thanks

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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 - https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registryhttps://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry .

      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 – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.ukhttp://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk,
      • County record offices, and
      • Local libraries.

      I hope this of some assistance to you.

      Reply
  8. Comment by Paula Byrne posted on

    Our 8 terraced houses' gardens and another set of 6 terraced houses' gardens are separated by a narrow strip of land with very high conifers and a pathway - shown on my deeds running from one end to the other - with access via a locked gate at the end into a garage area. We've always understood that strip was "no man's land" retained by council/utilities for access. The other houses have placed sheds etc on the strip with gates from their back gardens, and some have extended their gardens and fenced off the pathway - thus assuming ownership. Our side maintain the conifers to allow light into our gardens. I've done lots of research over the years but still cannot find out the "owner" of this strip. Can you advise? Thank you

    Reply
    • Replies to Paula Byrne>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Paula - the advise is in the blog article so I assume it is unregistered and therefore the legal ownership is not known.

      Reply
      • Replies to AdamH>

        Comment by Paula Byrne posted on

        Thank you. I suppose my question should have been "is it, therefore" not legally owned and can be claimed by anyone"?

        Reply
        • Replies to Paula Byrne>

          Comment by AdamH posted on

          Paula - all land is owned but not all land is registered. Anyone can claim land but the law is a complex one and the registration requirements will vary a little depending on whether the land is registered or not and/or when the claim started. Our PGs 4 and 5 explain some of this in more detail https://www.gov.uk/topic/land-registration/practice-guides

          Reply
  9. Comment by Paula Byrne posted on

  10. Comment by Debbie posted on

    So I’m confused all land is owned but not all land is registered, I know where my boundaries are and then there’s a 2 metre gap running along the length of our houses, then another estate was built with a fence running parallel to our boundary,and someone is trying to extend their garden out sideways up to our boundary, I’ve told them I’m not happy with what they’re doing and they said they’ve spoken to their solicitor and he reassures them it’s theirs to do what they want with it, how can I find out who owns that piece of land? Would it be owned by the local council? Would they be able to help me find out?

    Reply
    • Replies to Debbie>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Debbie - if the Council are not the landowner/neighbour then they would not be involved or able to help. You would need to consider the registered details and any available information to try and establish where the legal boundary lies. I would start with checking the neighbour's registered title to see what information that provides. And have a read of this article as well https://hmlandregistry.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/27/drawing-the-line-on-boundaries/

      Reply
  11. Comment by john posted on

    A local sports club recently applied for planning permission on their field, it was rejected on that they did not own the land, it was bequeathed many years ago to the village with a covenant denying any building, however the solicitors who were the trustees now do not exist and the club has claimed 1st registration proprietorship as the deed and covenant cannot be found is there any period of time before 100% ownership to allow an objections to be allowed, all the elderly people in the village remember it being bequeathed but the last member of the donor family is now unfortnately senile.

    Reply
    • Replies to john>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      John - it's legal advice you relaly need here to ascertain what rights you/other may have to challenge or object to any application to register the title. Any application to claim ownership and title will be considered initially on the evidence submitted by the applicant. Our Practice Guide 5 explains how such an application is made and the type of evidence required. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adverse-possession-of-1-unregistered-land-and-2-registered-land
      If that evidence is considered sufficient we will then survey the site and may notify adjoining landowners depending on the circumstances. We do not contact a 'community' for example.
      If that part of the proces sis also passed then possessory title may be granted which in turn may be updgraed some 12 years later.
      The key, in my view here would be what are your grounds for objection? If it is based on a counter claim then your legal advice should extend to considering looking to register the title yourselves.
      Our Practice Guide 37 explains how we deal with objections and disputes https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/objections-and-disputes-a-guide-to-land-registry-practice-and-procedures

      Reply
  12. Comment by jackie owen posted on

    Who is responsible for a shop frontage? The council have confirmed it is not part of the adopted highway and the shop owner has produced a copy of the title showing their boundary to be at the building. The area outside of the shop is in disrepair and needs repairing before somebody injures themself!

    Reply
    • Replies to jackie owen>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Jackie - you'll need to seek legal advice/assistance to ascertain who is responsible. Whilst we can provide any registered details it is an understanding of the law that will be needed to ascertain where responsibility for upkeep lies

      Reply
  13. Comment by john posted on

    How long after 1st title registration on a piece of unknown ownership land does the new title holder have to build on the land ? or apply for planning permission.

    Reply
    • Replies to john>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      John - I'm not aware of any requirement that states you have to build on land you have claimed. Claimed land does not have to then be built upon. If you have a specific scenario then I would recommend seeking legal advice to unravel he complexities of the law around such claims

      Reply
  14. Comment by Joy Mortiboys posted on

    There is a drive between 2 houses from Newdigate Road Bedworth CV12 8EF through to Arbury Avenue CV12. This is in desperate need of some maintenance but on searching for ownership I have found that this has reverted to Crown Land. In this case who is it that is responsible for the upkeep of such land.

    Reply
    • Replies to Joy Mortiboys>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Joy - if it is crown land then I would suggest contacting the Treasury Solicitor for clarification re any responsibilities for it

      Reply
  15. Comment by Val Kane posted on

    My question is how can I find out who owns a strip of paved land next to a house ? This strip is just over a cars width and could provide access to a piece of land which has a building application applied for. The land has a non build upon covenant attached. So we are hoping that the strip of land in question will help to prevent the access . We are hoping to get a solicitor involved but are at present waiting to find out if they can take on the case as it through our house insurance legal cover.

    Reply
  16. Comment by Tipper Tom posted on

    Ok, so when I look at the land registry map for my property, and compare it to the OS map that is used to highlight in the deeds, my garden appears to be approximately 4m longer on the land registry, now behind the property is a patch of "no mans land" untamed woodland and that's about 50m.
    How do I go about getting this additional land included in my deeds so I can legally move my fence back?

    Reply
    • Replies to Tipper Tom>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Tipper Tom - the two plans are for very different purposes. The OS plan shows the surveyed features only. It does not denote the legal ownership or registered extent as that is what the title plan does.
      If the land you are interested in is outside your title I would suggest checking if it is registered. All land is owned but not all land is registered and what you can or cannot do legally can be affected by whether it is registered or not. For example if you are looking to move your fence and claim the land our PGs 4 and 5 explain the registration requirements. https://www.gov.uk/topic/land-registration/practice-guides
      The law re such claims is a complex one so if that is your intention please do get legal advice

      Reply
  17. Comment by Steve posted on

    I have recently received a reply after submitting a search in index map request. The first part under the result heading gives 2 freehold numbers , registered estate ir caution ,then goes onto say no other registered estate ,caution against first application for registration or application for a caution against first registration is shown on the index map in relation to this property. Does this mean the land is not registered ?

    The reason for this application was regarding a strip of land behind my property that I've used as a veg patch for 15 years. I wanted to know whether I could claim or whether there is a current owner.

    Reply
    • Replies to Steve>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Steve - if the result refers to title number(s) then you would need to check each to see what they refer to and what interest(s) they protect. You can search online using the title number(s) under Detailed enquiry https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-property-and-land
      If they are caution titles then the land is unregistered but the cautioner has registered an interest in that land

      Reply
  18. Comment by Steve posted on

    Thanks for replying , there is no title number just 2 freehold numbers. Due tomorrow being land between my property and woodland there is no postcode .

    Reply
    • Replies to Steve>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Steve - freehold is the tenure and if registered would have a title number. I read your post as wanting to know what each title referred to - if so then use the Detailed enquiry option (not Quick or Map enquiry) and search using the title numbers on your SIM result to confirm the registered details as appropriate. The register confirms the ownership of the title searched whilst the title plan will show the registered extent

      Reply
  19. Comment by Steven posted on

    Thank you, this is very strange , I have completed searches and both have come back with the local council as ownership. Some years ago we went to them asking who owned it and they said it wasn't theirs.

    Reply
  20. Comment by Alan Burrows posted on

    The entire length of my back garden runs alongside a passage. The passage is L shaped with only one entrance/exit point, the Local Council say they do not own the passage and it is overgrown and some people use the area as a tip. I have a gate that I use so that on occasion I can take a short cut using the passageway or maintain the fence to my property. I do have my title deeds which clearly show the passage on the plans, also there is a reference to the vendor (this is in 1935)) "When required by Vendors (if and so far as not then done) to pay half expense of forming sd passage 12ft wide on northerly side of land thrby assured adjg and coextensive with boundary throf and also (if and so far as afsd) entire expense of paving with good paving stones or other material as mt be required by Vendors one half in width of sd passage adjgand coextensive as afsd". I take it this means that the Vendor or inheritors of the Vendor or the Crown now own this piece of land or am I completely wrong. My supplementary point is if there is an owner do my deeds indicate that this passageway should be paved or cindered (I may be pushing it here) to a standard by them. Obviously my Local Council are not interested my neighbour who has cut down a couple of trees and piled them up against my fence isn't and the other chap who piles up rubbish reducing the passage width by half isn't. So what should I do next to make any progress.

    Reply
    • Replies to Alan Burrows>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Alan - I assume the land is unregistered and the reference to the older deed is the way forward with regards trying to identify who the legal owner might be. As you already appreciate if they were the owner that ownership may have passed to their next of kin or the crown if none exist.
      Your deed states to what extent works have to be done, consented to and materials used - so it's either good paving stones or other material as agreed to by the Vendor etc.
      So it reads as if identifying the legal owner may be difficult and even if you did would they be traceable/willing to admit to it. If so it's really a question of what is it you wish to do. If that is to repair and maintain it then that may be something you can discuss and agree with the neighbours you mention, if they are willing to get involved of course.
      If you are looking for wider comment/advice then online forums such as Garden law can be useful resources re examples of similar scenarios which others have posted and commented upon. But it's really legal advice you need here to get specific advice on your own scenario and the rights of the owner (absent or otherwise)/neighbours for example

      Reply
  21. Comment by Pauline Salisbury posted on

    We have lived down the end of a lane for nearly 40 years. There are 6 other houses down the lane. Part of the lane is along the border of common land called Retired Common (Cornwall). We now know that two cautions have been registered by 2 unidentified co-owners (Both of whom we know). Commons Registry Officer has given us this information. These cautions have stopped us getting an indemnity insurance for the mortgage we want to take out to extend our home here. Can these cautions be lifted? Can we get right of way by prescription? Neither of these owners have objected to us or any of the other homeowners using the lane. One of the owners, used to live on the lane. We now suspect that these cautions are making all the properties here unmortgageable. I have left a query on the Land Registry site as well.

    Reply
  22. Comment by Alan Burrows posted on

    Thank you Adam. I do not know if the land is unregistered I just assumed because most of the neighbours I have spoke to have quoted "no man's land" which from reading the above I understand that this cannot be right. The Local Council have on a few occasions cleared the passage by the intervention of our local Councillor by working with the Restorative Justice Group. There is a highways sign at the entrance to the passage showing how wide it is ( a van could get part way along the passage). The Vendor was a large figure in the local community, what was a rural area had become a Mill town (North West - bit of a give away) and I have found that our local Heritage Library do have records relating to his family business from the 19th to late 20th century if I feel the urge to look. It might be best if I check to see if the land is registered, if that is the case what is the process?

    Reply
    • Replies to Alan Burrows>

      Comment by ianflowers posted on

      Alan - I'm replying as Adam is currently unavailable. You may able to check if the land is registered online via our Find a Property service - https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry.

      Select the Map enquiry option. Use a nearby road and town name 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.

      Once you decide on the information you require you can click Purchase to get a copy of the title register for £3 giving the registered owner.

      It is possible that you may not be able to refine the online search enough to get a result just for land in question or there is no info showing for the land in which case it is likely to be not registered. In either case you may want to consider lodging a postal Search of the Index Map application with a suitable plan showing the extent of the land searched to get confirmation. We would then confirm whether or not the land is registered and if registered, provide the title number. Please see our guidance for more info - https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-property-and-land/search-the-index-map .

      Reply
  23. Comment by ElizaH posted on

    We live down a country lane that is part BOAT (byway open to all traffic) and then becomes a bridleway. The access to our home crosses the bridleway (which is also a route used regularly by many vehicles to a light industrial site). This therefore renders our access illegal. We understand that you can apply to the highway agency(?) for a change of use of the bridleway. Is there any way of doing this in the absence of any record of ownership of the bridleway?

    Reply
    • Replies to ElizaH>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      ElizaH - not something we deal with so I'd contact the Highways Agency and/or Local Authority for assistance

      Reply
  24. Comment by Lesley Davies posted on

    Hi, we own a terraced house in a row of four. A lease dated 1903 for a period of 800 years covered all four properties. In Jan 2003 before we purchased the property the freehold was purchased and we hold Title Absolute deeds. Our neighbours purchased their freehold in 2002 and also hold Title Absolute deeds BUT also hold Title good leasehold. Why would it be that we only have Title Absolute deeds please? What would we need to do to also hold Title good leasehold - would we need to establish the current owner of the lease and if so would their be a way of tracing this back through the title held by our neighbour as it relates to the same original lease? We are experiencing difficulties in selling the property because the Charges Register on our Title Absolute makes mention of this lease.

    Reply
    • Replies to Lesley Davies>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      Lesley - I note that you have also contacted us using our online contact form and provide specific details. Our support team will consider your emails and respond as appropriate

      Reply
  25. Comment by David Round posted on

    Hi I am having a dispute with the highways agency vegetation is growing on our boundary we have no right of access to remove it and they are now refusing to remove the vegetation from the estates fence the vegetation is destroying the fence and subsequently there is Japansese knotweed there also they are now arguing because there is a 10mm gap between our fence and theirs they won’t do anything to remove the vegetation! Now they have warned me I will be trespassing if I attempt to remove the vegetation!! What can I do! Initially they also said they didn’t own the land then I asked for the original copy of the ownership and they suddenly changed their mind!!!! I feel I am being stiched up here!

    Reply
    • Replies to David Round>

      Comment by AdamH posted on

      David - it's legal advice you need here. If you are looking for wider online comment or suggestions then online forums such as Garden Law can be useful resources but it is very much legal advice you need as to what rights you may have

      Reply

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