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Property fraud – Is someone else laying claim to your land?

It is rare for Conveyancing Solicitors to consider reports of criminal cases, but I was somewhat intrigued by a report from the Keighley News in Bradford about a woman who had been prosecuted for trying to claim ownership of land at the centre of a neighbours’ dispute. It appears from the report that the woman had altered plans in old title deeds relating to her property, some dating back to the 1920’s, so that they appeared to show that her property included an unadopted road which adjoined her land. Her reason for doing so was to try and stop an adjoining owner from using this road.

Although this seems to be an unusual case, the Land Registry has reported that the number of fraud cases which it encounters is on the increase. It has taken steps over the last few years to try and reduce this, one major step being the introduction of Identity checks. Where Conveyancing Solicitors are acting, the Land Registry is prepared to rely on the fact that Solicitors have to carry out proper ID checks on their clients before acting for them.   But if anyone wants to carry out their own Conveyancing they will now have to comply with the Registry’s stringent ID requirements, which may entail a visit to a Land Registry office.

I have personally encountered cases where a piece of land has apparently been sold twice, although it usually turns out to be an error in old deeds plans. Such plans were notoriously inaccurate, and it does sometimes happen that there is a genuine dispute between adjoining owners. These problems usually arise when title to one property has already been registered and the other ‘owner’ then applies for registration. It would appear from the reported case that the woman had altered the old deeds and then sent them to the Registry in support of her claim to title. No doubt the Land Registry would have carefully inspected these deeds, and it would be difficult for the average person to alter an old deed in such a way that it was not fairly obvious.

Although most home owners will assume that once the title is registered no more problems will arise, but a number of cases have arisen where a rogue has impersonated the genuine owner and ‘sold’ the house. This has arisen when a house was rented out, and when the true owner was on an extended trip abroad. If this does happen the Land Registry may have to pay compensation, so they are naturally keen to ensure that cases such as these are not repeated, which is why they have tightened up their requirements.

One step which house owners can take to help prevent fraud is to make sure that the Land Registry has their correct current address registered. The Registry will register up to three addresses for owners, which can include an email address, and you can ask the Registry to register additional addresses at any time. Anyone who owns a buy-to-let house should ensure that the Registry uses their personal address, not the address of the property, as this will avoid any official notices from the Registry being intercepted by a fraudster.

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