Claiming Unregistered Land

It is possible to claim land that has not been registered to an owner or land that has been left unused by its owner.

But there are rules you’ll have to follow to make sure you do it by the book, giving you the best chance of keeping hold of the land.

Whether you want to extend your garden by a few feet or claim an entire plot of land, it may be possible if you follow the right process.

Find out if it’s registered

The first thing you should do is find out whether the land is registered or not. You can do this cheaply with the Land Registry.

If you find that it isn’t registered, it could still have an owner. You might have to carry out some detective work to find out who this is.

Your best starting point will be neighbours of the land in question. They might be able to tell you who owns the land. Other local residents may also know who the owner is, especially if they’ve lived in the area a long time.

Neighbouring properties could also shed some light on the situation. The official documents of these properties could refer to the land you’re interested in. They could mention an owner.

Local authorities may also have resources you can check for ownership, such as county records offices. They may also have received planning applications for the land, which have to be submitted by the owner or someone who has served notice on the owner, who they have to name.

Adverse possession

If you find that the land is registered to an owner and you’re still interested in claiming it, you might have to resort to adverse possession.

Because the rules can be complicated in this scenario, it’s advisable to take advice from a property solicitor to ensure you act legally.

When you want to claim a piece of unattended land, you could start off by doing something like putting up a sign declaring your intention to claim it or even by fencing the land in. Once you have occupied the land for a certain period – 10 years in the case of registered land or 12 years if it’s unregistered – you can often become its owner.

You’ll need to make sure that in your claim for adverse possession, you have taken physical possession of the land to the exclusion of others, without consent or objection from the owner. This will usually mean fencing or walling the land so no one else can gain access.

With adverse possession, you’ll also have to prove that you have taken possession and when you did so. Photos are good evidence, so try to get as many as possible of the fencing and boundaries. You can also use proof of purchase of the fencing to strengthen your application. Proof of your maintenance of the land – such as gardening services invoices – can also help.

But you’ll have to remember that anyone the Land Registry thinks may have rights over the land, including a right of way, will be sent a notice telling them you’re claiming it. They’ll be allowed the opportunity to raise any objections within a certain timeframe.

Types of ownership

Trying to claim ownership of a piece of land can be challenging but it’s worth it when you get it registered to you.

You can be awarded two different types of title: absolute and possessory.

An absolute title means you are indisputably the owner of a piece of land or property. If you are the absolute title holder, no one can try to claim that they are actually the owner. Your ownership will usually be unchallenged.

Meanwhile, a possessory title is awarded when you can’t provide evidence of your ownership, such as the deeds. This is usually what you’ll receive if you apply through adverse possession. It’s possible to change your ownership to an absolute title after 12 years of a possessory title – as long as no contests to your ownership have happened in that period.

Land Registration Act 2002

The Land Registration Act 2002 made it more difficult to claim adverse possession of registered land. Before the legislation was introduced, it was almost an automatic right for applicants to be granted the title to land by taking possession of it for 12 years.

That has changed. It’s no longer a given that you will be awarded ownership of land even if you have been in exclusive possession of it for that period.

This is why it’s vital to get the right legal help when trying to claim unregistered or unclaimed land. Having the best property solicitors behind you will give you a far better chance of securing the land you want.

To find out how First4Lawyers could help, give us a call, request a call back or make an enquiry online and we’ll get back to you.


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