There’s a small strip of land on our road that doesn’t appear to belong to anyone. The Land Registry said it wasn’t registered to any property and the council doesn’t know who owns it. I’ve been tending the area so it looks nice and now I’d like to buy it. How can I find out if there is an owner? And if I can’t buy it, could I claim it?
Sarah Easton Says
In England and Wales there are two systems. The most common is the registered one where ownership information is recorded at the Land Registry. Being registered as owner at the Land Registry is how someone proves they own the land. If the ownership isn’t recorded at the Land Registry it’s unlikely you’ll be able to trace the owner. Further investigation of any adjoining registered titles may offer clues to ownership, and a solicitor could assist you with this to give you greater certainty over ownership.
Historically, ownership of land was proved by documentary evidence showing transfers of the land from owner to owner. This is known as unregistered land. As this land isn’t registered at the Land Registry, it will be governed by the unregistered land system. There’s no central register of ownership of unregistered land so it’s difficult for a third party to establish who owns it.
There is a possibility of claiming the land through adverse possession, where you don’t have to establish ownership because it extinguishes any claim the original owner had but only after the land has been in your possession for 12 years. It’s not a quick process and there’s always the possibility that the true owner may come forward during that time.
Article first published in the February 2015 edition of House Beautiful magazine, Ask the Experts section.