The image of a dusty old solicitor poring over equally dusty old deeds, neatly tied up with pink ribbon, is familiar to us all.
As solicitors, we are often asked whether it is really necessary to hold on to these title deeds in Moray and elsewhere.
In today’s world, is a bundle of 20 or so deeds really necessary to prove ownership of a house?
The straightforward lawyer’s answer is: “it depends”.
Three ways your ownership can be registered
At the moment, there are three main ways that your house can be registered at the Public Register.
- Register of Sasines
- Title Sheet
- Land Certificate
In the last few weeks of 2014, there were major changes to the Land Register system, bringing the registration of your house fully into the modern era.
For solicitors, this has been a major change in how documentation is dealt with but, for you, the main change will be that the Land Register no longer issues a paper document to confirm your ownership.
The Land Register keeps electronic records of property and prepares a Title Sheet for every registered property.
After you buy your house and your ownership is registered, your solicitor will receive, via email, a copy of the Title Sheet.
This can be printed, but it is more likely to be held in electronic format.
Your “title” cannot be lost and, for a small fee, the Title Sheet can be downloaded from the Land Register at any time.
We will want to keep some of those dusty old deeds for a short period after registration, after which most deeds will be obsolete.
If you live in Moray and bought your house before 2003 your title will still be on the old Sasine (pronounced say-zeen) Register and – somewhere – there will be a bundle of deeds to prove your ownership.
Although it is possible to obtain copies of each of the deeds from the Register, usually more than one deed is needed to prove your ownership and to confirm what title conditions and rights affect your property.
It is more important that these older deeds are not lost as often the deed includes a plan which is only available as part of the deed itself (before photocopiers were invented), or only a black and white copy of the plan is held at the Land Register archive.
Having the original plan can be important if the deed refers to several colours on the plan.
When you sell your house, the deeds will be passed to the purchaser’s solicitor and most deeds will become obsolete after the purchaser’s Title Sheet is issued.
Mixed feelings about “progress”
This march of technology can be viewed with mixed feelings.
It is much more convenient to have a single document confirming ownership with a plan and all the title rights and conditions specified, rather than possibly having to piece the information together from several deeds.
But seeing the history of a property, as it changed hands from the local Laird to current times, often through family, can be fascinating.
Many of the older deeds are handwritten and occasionally we come across vellum deeds, or in Latin, which is even more of a challenge.
For decades the Land Register had been phasing in a system of Land Certificates and that registration system came to Moray in 2003.
The Land Register kept ownership records electronically and produced a single document called a Land Certificate, which confirmed ownership as well as narrating the details of the title, rights and conditions.
Once the Land Certificate was issued, the Sasine deeds were mostly obsolete.
It was recognised that the system required updating, partly due to the complexities of land ownership and the greater need for full, transparent information on ownership but also partly due to the effect of the guarantee that was given by the Land Register.
There was a famous Court case where two people were both claiming ownership of a flat, and as crazy as it sounds, the gist of the Court decision was that whoever had last changed the locks and was in the flat at the time could claim they were the legal owner.
Please do not panic about your house as this was a very unusual case, following an unusual set of circumstances including fraud.
Land Certificates are now also being phased out and, if you are buying a property from somebody who has a Land Certificate, you will instead receive an electronic Title Sheet.
Title deeds are not just about ownership and title conditions
That is not the full story as we refer to the “title deeds” not just as including the deeds, Land Certificate or Title Sheet (which prove your ownership and confirm the title burdens) but also other documents, which need to be kept in a safe place, such as documents in connection with alterations to your house, guarantees for specialist treatment work, or other documents which are not sent to the Land Register.
Tracking down your title deeds
You may find that your “title deeds” are kept in different places.
Historically, if you had a mortgage, the lender would want to keep the full package. However, in more recent years, due to administrative and storage restrictions, most lenders have asked only for the Land Certificate and mortgage document, or nothing at all – which means that the various deeds and documents may be held with your lender, with your solicitor or by you.
This could be particularly complicated if you have remortgaged and your original lender wished to keep the title deeds – or some of them – and your new lender did not have the same requirement. Sometimes it can feel like a game of hunt the thimble. If you are thinking of selling your house, check what you have and where other documents should be, as you would not wish your house sale to be delayed while an important document is being tracked down.
How we can help
If you have any questions about this article or any aspect of our house purchase and sales services, feel free contact us and we will be glad to help.
All initial enquiries are free of charge and without obligation.