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Land Law and the system of Land Registration

Land Law Cases referred to in this section:

  • Racoon Ltd v Turnbull (1997) AC 158
  • British American Cattle Co v Caribe Farm Industries (1998) 1 WLR 1529

The System of Registration

Since it is possible for the title to a particular estate in land to be registered (for example, the freehold) and a different estate in the same land to be unregistered (for example, the leasehold), it is more correct to refer to unregistered and registered 'titles' as oppose to unregistered and registered land.

The aim of land registration is that the Land Register should accurately reflect the totality of estates, interests and charges affecting the land. In effect, the Register acts as a 'mirror' of the title reflecting the full range of proprietary benefits and burdens which currently affect the land. Further, the act of registration itself confers on each registered owner a legal title which is in effect indefeasible (Racoon Ltd v Turnbull (1997) AC 158 at 163C per Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle), within the limits perscribed by the Register. A purchaser of property who deals with a registered proprietor in good faith and for value will therefore obtain an absolute and indefeasible title (British American Cattle Co v Caribe Farm Industries (1998) 1 WLR 1529 at 1533E-F per Lord Browne Wilkinson).

Each significant estate in the land is awarded its own unique title number and so, for example, a particular plot of land may have more than one title number reflecting the freehold and leasehold ownership.

Unfortunately the mirror principle does not operate entirely accurately - since there are interests in land which do not have to be registered but may still bind a purchaser. These are known as interests which override registered titles, and are those which are generally detectable by a physical inspection of the property. They include short legal leases for periods not exceeding 7 years and proprietary rights of any person in 'actual occupation' of the land - these interests automatically bind a purchaser and thus create a 'crack in the mirror'.

Types of titles in registered land

When a title to a legal estate is registered at Land Registry there are seven possible kinds of title that may be granted. Both freehold and leasehold estates may be registered with absolute, possessory or qualified title. In addition, leasehold estates may be registered with a good leasehold title.

The class of title with which the property is registered is stated at the beginning of the Proprietorship Register on the Register.

Absolute Freehold/Leasehold

This is the best class of title and the one that will be granted in the vast majority of cases. Exceptionally, however, this may not be possible, for example, where some evidence is lacking or a defect in the title is apparent, so making it unsafe for Land Registry to guarantee the owner absolutely against the risk of some other person claiming a right in the land.

Good Leasehold

There are many applications to register leasehold estates where the title of the landlord to grant the lease which is being registered has not been produced to Land Registry. In such cases, the Land Registry is not in a position to know if the landlord had the full and unrestricted power to make the grant or if any restrictive covenants or other incumbrances affect the property. So, provided that the title to the leasehold estate itself is satisfactory, the Land Registry will grant good leasehold title. Good leasehold may also be granted where any necessary consent, for example, by a chargee of a landlord's title, has not been produced.

Possessory Freehold/Leasehold

Typically, possessory titles may be granted where the owner claims to have acquired the land by adverse possession. Alternatively, it may be where, for some reason, the owner cannot produce documentary evidence of title to an estate. These titles are rare.

Qualified Freehold/Leasehold

Qualified titles are granted where there is some specific defect that has been identified and this is stated on the register. These are even rarer than possessory titles.

Unregistered Titles

Unregistered titles depend on a chain of title deeds which detail successive transactions with a property. When investigating the title to a property, it is usual to provide a bundle of deeds showing transactions spanning over at least 15 years (Law of Property Act 1969, Section 23) and provided that a good root of title can be established from investigation of these deeds, the purchaser can confidently complete the transaction knowing that he will obtain good title.

A good root of title is a document that is:

  • at least fifteen years old (Law of Property Act 1925 s.44 as amended by the Law of Property Act 1969),
  • deals with or shows the ownership of the whole legal and equitable interest contracted to be sold,
  • contains an adequate description of the property and,
  • contains nothing to cast any doubt on the title.

Following the Registration of Title Order 1989, the whole of England and Wales became an area of compulsory registration as from 1 December 1990 and so titles to estates must be registered following any disposition now that triggers registration - which includes virtually all dealings with property.

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