The benefits of registering land are numerous. Not only does registration give the owner peace of mind in knowing that their claim on any land they own is legally protected, it also safeguards against adverse possession or what is colloquially known as squatting.
The government had originally set a target of 2012 for registering all unregistered land in England and Wales. However, 25% still remains unregistered.
If you own freehold or leasehold land in England and Wales you can register it voluntarily with the Land Registry. This state-backed registration of title will put owners in a better position when selling land, as most buyers expect land to be registered. Registration also means a more straightforward conveyancing process will ensue.
Prior to the Land Registration Act 2002 anyone could gain ownership by adverse possession, provided they had been in genuine occupation of an area of land for a minimum period of 12 years and satisfied certain other criteria. However, since the Land Registration Act 2002 came into force, if land that is already registered at HM Land Registry, it is now much more difficult for an occupier to claim ownership.
This is makes complete sense, as the idea behind the Land Registry is to give clear evidence of title and if, therefore, somebody is registered as owner, it should not be easy or simple for somebody to claim squatters rights. It should be borne in mind that the legislation is designed to assist those in actual possession of land but who cannot show a good paper title and who cannot provide a means by which unoccupied land can be claimed.
The Land Registration Act 2002, however, has not affected the situation with regard to unregistered land. In order to claim unregistered land, the occupier must actually possess the land, have the necessary intention to possess the land (i.e. intend to own it) and their occupation must be without the real owners consent or objection. They must have fulfilled all of these conditions for at least 12 years.
If the land is unregistered after the necessary time has passed, an application can then be made to the Land Registry to be registered with a possessory title.
The 12-year period can be broken at any time by the occupier acknowledging the real owners title in writing and will not run if the occupation is without the owners consent.
The situation for registered land is different. Adverse possession of registered land for 12 years of itself will no longer affect the registered, or real, owners title.
However, after 10 years of adverse possession, the occupier will be entitled to apply to be registered as owner of the land in their place. They will still need to satisfy the same conditions as for unregistered land - namely have the necessary intent to possess the land and their occupation must be without the real owners consent or objection.
If such an application is made, the registered proprietor will be notified and is then given the opportunity to oppose the application. If the application is not opposed, then the occupier will be registered as the new registered proprietor.
In summary, if you are the occupier of land that is unregistered and have been so for at least 12 years, it may be worth considering making an application to the Land Registry to register your title.
Martin Williamson is Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. Latimer Hinks has a team of around 50 people serving private and corporate clients. For further information: www.latimerhinks.co.uk or call 01325 341 500.