One of the most popular questions we are asked is who owns a particular piece of land or property. Usually we can give the answer because it is registered and the details are readily available online or in some cases only by post.

But what about the bits which aren’t registered – how do you go about trying to find out who owns these?

shed2Well, the simple answer is it will often come down to your own detective work, where in the country the land or property is located and sometimes luck!

Over 80% of England & Wales is now registered and large parts of the land that aren’t are most likely to be owned by the Crown, the aristocracy or the Church. The reason why it has never been registered is because it has never been sold, which was one of the main triggers for compulsory registration.

Some people think that unregistered land isn’t owned by anyone or refer to it as ‘no man’s land’. But this isn’t right, in England & Wales all land is owned by somebody, even if the legal owner can’t be identified. For example ownerless property can pass to the crown by law, and referred to as Bona Vacantia.

So, where to start?

Once you have checked and are sure that the land or property isn’t registered, then it is probably best to start your detective work in the surrounding area and making enquiries, for example:

  • Ask any neighbours or adjoining landowners whether they know who the owner(s) might be;
  • Ask local residents, who may have lived in the area for a number of years and who have ‘local knowledge’, to see if they have any ideas about who might own it;
  • Ask in the local pub, post office or shop
  • Check adjoining registered properties for clues, they may refer to a deed or document which affected not only that registered title but also ‘other land’. The other land may have included the unregistered part and the deed/document will refer to the parties to the deed, which may give a clue as to the owner on a specific date;
  • Depending on where the land or property is located, there may be county or local authority records which provide a clue – Yorkshire and Middlesex have their own deeds registries, but to make a search you need to know the name of  previous or current owners, whilst other counties have County Records Offices;
  • Check with your local authority to see if any planning applications have been submitted over the years. By law applicants currently have to sign either a Certificate A to say they are the owner or Certificate B where they say they have served notice on the owner who they have to name.

  • You could also check your local electoral register;
  • Online forums sometimes suggest ‘doing something’ to the property or the land, such as putting a sign up. This may or may not be appropriate and before doing so it would be advisable to confirm with a solicitor whether that would be acceptable and/or whether by doing so you are breaking any laws. Examples of online forums which often carry threads discussing such matters and which may be of interest include Money Saving Expert and Garden Law.

By AdamH,
Customer Service Representative at HM Land Registry Head Office