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Destroyed deeds

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Destroyed deeds

Postby SPNS » Wed Oct 26, 2016 10:00 pm

My parents transferred their property to me last year. They still live at the property, with me.

To the rear of the property is a field which I would guess is about three quarters of an acre in size. The field was originally owned by the builders of the estate. In the 1980s they applied for planning permission to build more houses, which was refused at the time. Since the land was useless to the builders, and as my parents were fearful that the builders might try applying for planning permission again in the future and be successful, they bought the land from them. They were content to let the land overgrow for security reasons, safe in the knowledge that nobody would be able to build on the land in future.

The land was bought outright with no mortgage and the deeds were kept at home. In the late 1990s there was a torrential storm and the property was flooded. As you can guess, the deeds were destroyed. At the time my parents thought nothing of it, because they had no plans for the land as they just wanted to safeguard it from being built on.

Now I am in possession and ownership of the property, I would like to clear up the field to the rear of the property and turn it into a market garden. They have agreed to transfer the field to me and this of course triggers compulsory registration. Even if they didn't transfer it to me, I would feel safer having the land registered to make it harder for adverse possessors. Even a possessory title would be sufficient because it could always be upgraded in future.

The problem, of course, is that the deeds were destroyed in the flood. I sought a solicitor who thinks the chances of getting the land registered at the Land Registry are slim to none because it seems too opportunistic with no documentary evidence that my parents owned it and the fact is that they never actually possessed it, although I would be actually possessing it prior to the first registration being made. Although we could get a copy of the insurance policy to confirm the flood, the solicitor says that single document by itself (even with a statement of truth) won't be enough.

The builder was bought by a bigger company, who, in turn, was bought by an even bigger company with a lot of money at their disposal. The chances of them having any documents relating to the sale from the 1980s are probably slim to none, but my fear is that if I contact them about this to enquire, and they realise we have no evidence that my parents ever bought it, they might deny the sale having taken place and then claim ownership of the land and then build on it against my parents wishes!

We have a copy of the abstract of the title which conveyed the land to the builders and also the conveyance before that, but sadly, not the conveyance from the builders to my parents. The solicitors used by my parents are no longer trading and we have no idea which solicitors were used by the builders.

I understand this forum is not about giving advice, but discussing law. Although advice would be nice, I respect that you don't give any. I was hoping that, perhaps, there might be some legal options as yet unexplored. Or confirmation that this is a dead duck. I did not feel confident that the solicitor had much experience in this type of case and there are no other solicitors in my area that I can access that deal with land law.

Thanks for anything you can help with.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby Hairyloon » Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:42 pm

SPNS wrote:I sought a solicitor who thinks the chances of getting the land registered at the Land Registry are slim to none because it seems too opportunistic with no documentary evidence that my parents owned it and the fact is that they never actually possessed it...

I don't think you have to physically be on the land to "possess" it, you just need to have a better claim to have been possessing it than anyone else does.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby dls » Thu Oct 27, 2016 6:03 am

You will need help from a solicitor. The sooner the (much) better.

You see first if the land is registered. If so, you are home and dry

If not then he recovers whatever can be recovered of the title, and applies on your behalf for registration of your title to the land.

He may very well know what happened to the firm of solicitors and its files.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby atticus » Thu Oct 27, 2016 6:52 am

Surely there is a lot of evidence that can be gathered. You and your parents can make statutory declarations of ownership. What about neighbouring landowners? Council Tax/rates records? Bank records of payment? There must be a lot of evidence - little pieces, big picture.

So I would recommend consulting a good property lawyer. If this property has value, it is worth investing some money in securing title. And capture the evidence while your parents remain in sufficiently good health.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby atticus » Thu Oct 27, 2016 8:10 am

And in the meantime secure all entrances and boundaries.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby dls » Thu Oct 27, 2016 10:03 am

The possibility is that the OP may be reduced to applying for a possessory title. If so, demonstration of possession of te land to the intended exclusion of others will be necessary.
It is a lot less easy than it used to be but is very probably well worth it.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby Hairyloon » Thu Oct 27, 2016 10:29 am

dls wrote:The possibility is that the OP may be reduced to applying for a possessory title. If so, demonstration of possession of te land to the intended exclusion of others will be necessary.


I was going to suggest that he properly takes possession and begins work on the land, as good land management practice, if not for legal advantage.

It is a lot less easy than it used to be but is very probably well worth it.

It was my understanding that it is a lot less easy because it is much more easy to resist an application: if there is nobody to resist, then it should still be fairly easy.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby dls » Thu Oct 27, 2016 10:38 am

A few years ago teh Land Registry was repeatedly defrauded by applications for possessory title. They became much more cautious abut it all.

Additionally if the land is registered already it is really quite difficult (impossible?) to make such a claim.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby SPNS » Thu Oct 27, 2016 9:49 pm

Thank you for the replies. The problem is that the land is unregistered.

The solicitor that I engaged effectively said the case was hopeless on the following grounds:
- HMLR would not grant "Title Absolute" due to an impossibility to reconstruct the title deeds in any manner that would establish any title to the land to my parents as the deeds were not lost by a bank/solicitor
- the lack of 'actual possession' of the land by my parents would preclude a possessory title based on any application on lost/destroyed title deeds
- don't bother trying to claim 'adverse possession' because you cannot swear that any possession in 12 years time is truly adverse

I am sceptical because the solicitor would not say how he arrived at the conclusion that the title could not be reconstructed. I would not go so far as to directly question his competence but I was left with no faith that he had bothered to actually try.

My parents and I would be happy to make statutory declarations and we could obtain evidence from the insurance company to corroborate the flood but that wouldn't confirm what was actually lost in the flood, i.e. the deeds. The land was left to be overgrown for security purposes so there is not a great deal that neighbours can corroborate as there would be no evidence of actual use that they can attest to and my parents never told anyone about the purchase because they didn't want the neighbours to moan to them about tidying it up as they wanted to keep it in that state for security reasons, especially as they had been burgled previously and the psychological impact had been very profound especially on my dad. Since there are no dwellings on the land there was no council tax to pay. In essence the whole land consisted of long grass and brambles that grew longer and taller for several decades.

I can appreciate how suspicious this might well look to an outsider and to someone from HMLR and that I suppose is why the solicitor thinks it's a hopeless case. If only they'd kept the deeds in a safer place than at home!

I'd be fine in principle with possessory title because in 12 years time after registration I'd be able to apply to HMLR to upgrade it. That is no problem because I know that the land is ours so it would not be challenged. I know the sale to my parents was legitimate. But from a legal perspective any requirement for adverse possession to succeed would have to be founded on the possession being adverse and that would not be the case.

Again, thanks to all of you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it.
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Re: Destroyed deeds

Postby Hairyloon » Thu Oct 27, 2016 9:54 pm

SPNS wrote:- the lack of 'actual possession' of the land by my parents would preclude a possessory title based on any application on lost/destroyed title deeds...

They own it. They have not allowed anybody else to occupy it (?). I think they possess it.
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