Property fraud is where fraudsters will attempt to sell or mortgage your property without your knowledge by impersonating you. Unfortunately, property fraud is on the rise but there may be steps you can take to reduce this risk.
When it comes to property fraud, one of the high risk categories are those properties which are not yet registered with HM Land Registry, especially if the property is also not mortgaged. This risk further increases if the owners are absent, for example; they are in a hospital, a care home, are living abroad or have died.
Once upon a time, one of the commonly used property fraud prevention methods was to use sheepskin as parchment for title deeds. This was due to the high fat content of the sheepskin which made it difficult to alter text without being noticed. Fortunately times have moved on and we no longer rely on sheepskin as a form of fraud prevention. Technology has evolved and instead we now have His Majesty’s Land Registry.
Since 1990 it became compulsory in England and Wales to register your property with HM Land Registry upon a sale, yet many properties still remain unregistered. If you purchased your property prior to 1990, it is very likely that your land is unregistered.
Through my role as a conveyancing solicitor, I regularly come across unregistered properties in the Land Registry records for the local area of St Albans, Harpenden and surrounding areas. The reason for this is likely that these properties have not changed hands since 1990 (and who can blame these property owners, we all know this is a prime location area!).
Property owners can opt to voluntarily register their property at any time and this is something that we, as solicitors, can often assist with. If you are unsure whether your property has been registered with HM Land Registry, please get in contact with us as we can happily check this for you.
If your property is unregistered and you would like to voluntarily register with HM Land Registry then the next step is to ensure you are able to locate your original title deeds. If you are not holding these yourself they may be held by your mortgage lender or your solicitor. In the event that all efforts have been made to locate the original title deeds but it appears that your deeds have been lost or destroyed, we can still assist you so please do get in touch.
Once your property has been registered with HM Land Registry the title deeds will be held electronically. This means that the original title deeds are no longer of such great importance and the burden of keeping the deeds in a safe place is gone.
There are many advantages to registering your property, not only does it add one barrier to property fraud, it allows you to add further barriers as once you have registered your property you can sign up to HM Land Registry’s property alert service or register a fraud prevention restriction on your title. The property alert service is free and will ensure that HM Land Registry will email you with an alert when there has been certain activity relating to your property. There are also other benefits such as providing increased security of title, creating certainty and simplicity to conveyancing, protecting against adverse possession and setting out clearly the express rights, reservations and covenants that benefit and affect the property.
If your property is currently unregistered and you would like us to assist you with registering your property, please get in touch with Residential Property solicitor, Stephanie Alexander via email, or by calling her at our Harpenden office on 01582 765111.
If you have a general property enquiry, you can get in touch with any of our Residential Property team, in Luton, St Albans or Harpenden via our contact us form.