Property deeds


In the unregistered system of property transfer, the seller proves their ownership of the property by demonstrating that they have been in possession of it for a long period of time.

Possession, and therefore ownership, is proved by the seller producing documents showing who bought, sold, inherited or gifted the property before the current owner took ownership of the property.  Deeds are used to show possession, as they should contain documentation for transactions of the property for at least fifteen years.

The law on property deeds

Most changes of property ownership, and many other rights to entry or rights over land, should be executed by deed. Law on the execution of deeds changed in 1990, whereby deeds executed after 1990 should be:

  • Signed by the maker
  • The signature should be witnessed
  • The document should be delivered as a deed

It must be clear that the document was intended to be a deed. Law in England and Wales used to require that a deed was also sealed, but this is no longer a requirement.

Transfer of land

It is usually necessary for a transfer of an estate in land to be done by deed and your solicitor should check that this is done.

  • On registered land, the deed will be looked at by the Land Registry to ensure it is properly executed, before they update the register with the effect of that deed
  • On unregistered land, the title of the seller is proven by the title deeds, so historical deeds must be looked at to ensure that the title passed as the documents suggest
  • On unregistered land, your solicitor must check that a deed was executed as the rules at the time said it must. Therefore, if a pre-1990 deed was not sealed, then the title was not passed

The execution of a deed by a company is different to execution as an individual. If a company executed a deed, the law states that whether it was effective depends on the position the person who signed it held in the company. In addition, companies can produce an effective deed by using their company seal.

Slow shift to the registered system

Transacting using the unregistered system has been largely superseded by the registered system of transacting. The unregistered system was time consuming, expensive and had to be repeated each time the owner sold the property.

Deeds were also forged so that property was sold fraudulently and were sometimes lost or destroyed, which left the owner with no good title to their own property.

As a result of the problems with the unregistered system of selling land, the registered system was introduced. The aim of the system was to reduce fraud and simplify the system; however, the relatively slow move out of the system has meant that both systems run side by side and will continue to do for many decades yet.

The reason for this is that it is only compulsory to register land when it changes hands and it has only been compulsory in the whole country since 1990.

For more information on property deeds, see our FAQ page about deeds.

Do you have a dispute concerning the ownership of your property? Are you unsure how to find your property deeds? Contact Law can put you in touch with a specialist property law solicitor who can help you with any issues you are facing concerning property or title deeds. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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