Media reports have identified how fraudsters may attempt to acquire ownership of a property either by using a forged document to transfer it into their own name, or by impersonating the registered owner. This is especially the case where property is empty, whether for example through the owner being abroad, having rented it out or being in a care home.
Non-occupying owners are particularly vulnerable to fraud because they do not live at the property and cannot easily monitor suspicious post received or other activity at the property, particularly estate agents showing prospective buyers around.
To guard against property fraud, the Land Registry have always advised two immediate steps, first to consider voluntary registration of unregistered title deeds, and second that once registered at the Land Registry, your contact details are kept up to date. In the latter case, if the Land Registry receive an application to change contact details they will send a letter to both the owners’ old and new addresses to check that the application is genuine.
However, the Land Registry have just concluded a 6 month trial of offering non-occupying owners a free method of going one step further – the entry of a written Restriction in the registered title deeds. The Restriction is a written warning to any intending innocent purchaser that provides that no sale or mortgage can be registered unless a conveyancer has certified that the person who has signed the transfer or mortgage is the registered owner.
Owners that are actually living at the registered property have also been given a similar ability to enter a Restriction, albeit for a token fee of £50.