Land Registry searches are a vital part of conveyancing and are usually an effective means of ensuring that property buyers understand exactly what it is that they are purchasing. However, one tribunal case underlined that they are not foolproof because not every right in respect of land has to be registered.
When a couple bought their home their freehold title included a triangle of land over which their neighbours had held a leasehold interest since 1968 and which they had used for storage purposes. The neighbours had been under no obligation to register that interest and had not done so. It was not picked up in a pre-sale survey of the property and the couple were unaware of it at the time of purchase.
The dispute, which had become very angry, came before the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) after the couple objected to their neighbours’ attempt to register the lease. In ruling in the neighbours’ favour, the FTT found that the leasehold interest took priority over the couple’s freehold title, which had not been registered until 2009.
The FTT accepted that the couple did not have actual knowledge of the lease’s existence before they bought their home. However, in applying the legal test laid down by the Land Registration Act 2002, it found that their neighbours’ occupation of the triangle would have been obvious on a reasonably careful inspection.