The Land Registry is the central place that holds the registers for title and the title plans for registered property throughout England and Wales. These are referred to as the Official Copies or OCE’s.
It is standard procedure in all sorts of property transactions and property disputes to obtain information from the Land Registry regarding the registered proprietors of property and to obtain information about restrictions or covenants on land. It is the first port of call for lawyers for most property transactions and property disputes to find out relevant accurate and information about the property concerned.
It is well known that the title plans held by Land Registry are for identification purposes only and cannot be relied on to give accurate measurements of the land contained within a registered title. The information held by the Land Registry about who the registered proprietors are of the property is of crucial importance and can be time specific. However, mistakes can be made – by the Land Registry.
Pinney Talfourd’s property litigation team have recently successfully made an application to the Land Registry to correct a mistake on the registered title of a property and recovered our client’s costs of rectifying this mistake directly from the Land Registry.
The situation arose where our client made a standard application to the Land Registry to upgrade their possessory title to one of title absolute. This is a typical application that can be made either by the property owner directly or with assistance from a lawyer. We were approached by the property owners after they had made the approach to the Land Registry themselves.
When the property owners purchased their home 20 years or so before, their conveyancing solicitor correctly advised them that there was insufficient evidence available at the time about part of the land that formed a small part of their garden, for them to be registered as owners with title absolute for that part. This part of the land was registered to them under a separate title number with possessory title. The house and most of the garden was registered under a separate title number for which they were registered as the owners with title absolute. They were aware that they could make the application to the Land Registry after 12 years to upgrade the title to title absolute for the small parcel of land for which they only had possessory title. They continued to live at their home and had exclusive use of the whole of their garden as expected.
After 20 years ownership and enjoyment of their home, they approached the Land Registry to change the title to absolute but were informed by the Land Registry that the part of their front garden, for which they had had exclusive use and enjoyment was actually registered to two owners – themselves and another. Not only could our clients not upgrade their title, unless they could reach an agreement with the other owner, they would lose the part of the front garden altogether because the other owner had been registered first, before our clients as the owner.
The Land Registry were helpful but were unable to explain how this mistake had occurred but did assist in indicating the various ways in which the rectification to the title could be made. They also indicated that as the mistake was theirs, they would offer our clients an indemnity for costs up to £500. This was never going to cover the costs which would be incurred to resolve the problem but the consequences of not pursuing a resolution were too great – they would lose part of their front garden that led to their home. This was not contemplatable.
The options outlined by the Land Registry were correct but complicated and our clients needed assistance to decide the best way forward and to deal with the application. Unfortunately, the other registered proprietor was a charitable organisation. This further complicated the potential resolution. One of the options available to our clients was to claim the land by adverse possession because they had been the only people who had used, tended, and enjoyed the land that formed their front garden. However, an application for adverse possession of registered land against a Charity is not permitted. The other option was to apply to correct the mistake of the records at Land Registry under the Land Registration Rules. The Trustees of the charity had to proceed cautiously and had duties owed to the charity itself and so could not be seen to be giving up land belonging to the charity. Potentially, if they gave up the land that the charity was proprietor of the Trustees would be breaching their duties to the Charity.
After extensive enquiries and negotiations, we were able to successfully apply to the Land Registry to have the parcel of land which had been enjoyed for over 20 years by our clients, registered to them with agreement from the Charity that it would not oppose that application. That was the best option and the best offer the Charity could offer, with the Trustees not breaching their duties to the Charity. The Land Registry fully reimbursed our clients for the costs that they incurred in dealing with and correcting the mistake on the Land Registry title to show them as the registered proprietors.
Ultimately, the application was successful and not only did our clients retain the land that formed part of their garden, they were upgraded to registered proprietors absolute, combined the two separate titles into one and were reimbursed all the costs that they incurred in resolving this problem. This outcome was achieved for our clients after spending considerable time and patience by them and required cooperation and persistence between our clients, the Land Registry and the Trustees of the Charity, to achieve what was meant to be a simple objective of being registered with title absolute for the land that they had lived on and enjoyed for over 20 years.
The above is meant to be only advice and is correct as of the time of posting. This article was written by Lisa Eastwood, Senior Associate in the Property Litigation Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of September 2022.