Should I voluntarily register my land?

It’s over 400 years since the General Register of Sasines was established: what’s changed, and how can landowners best clarify and protect their own boundaries?

Dating back to 1617, the Sasine Register is the oldest system of its kind in the world.

Created by the old Scots Parliament, it was a landmark in the evolution of our property system and has been the foundation of Scotland’s property market ever since.

It has continued to evolve, and today we now have two public registers containing details of land ownership: the Sasine Register and the Land Register, introduced in 1979.

The former contains written descriptions of ownership, listing all title deeds for a property in chronological order. The more modern Land Register, which plots your land on an Ordnance Survey based map and contains your title in one document known as a title sheet, is intended to bring the Scottish system into the digital age.

An evolving system

The speed of the evolution of Scotland’s land registers has increased drastically in recent years.

Coming into force in 2014, perhaps one of the biggest changes was the ability for landowners to voluntarily register land, and recently, we have seen an increase in people taking this option.

The Scottish Government’s intention is for the Sasine Register to be phased out, and for all land to be registered in the newer Land Register by 2024, which is something of an ambitious target.

As things stand, around 62% of titles are on the modern Land Register, but this is really only 30% of the country’s landmass, the majority of which is rural.

And, as this type of property tends to change hands much more slowly, it’s far more likely to remain on the Sasine Register.

But, what does this mean for landowners?

There is no obligation to register your land voluntarily - and of course there is a cost associated with doing so - so what’s driving this increased demand?

Benefits of voluntary registration

There are direct benefits, including -

Clear boundaries

It gives the landowner the chance to iron out uncertainty - voluntary registration means you have a title with clear boundaries, mapped out to a modern standard.

The older Sasine deeds sometimes only describe property boundaries in writing.

More often than not, they refer back to an old title deed plan or drawing of the property that may not accurately capture the boundaries.

There is also a risk with such old plans that there is an overlap with the neighbouring property. In that situation, somebody will lose ownership.

Conversely, you may find you own land you weren’t aware of.

All rights, burdens and securities are set out in one place

Rather than having the servitude rights, burdens and securities affecting your property spread out across a number of older, individual Sasine deeds, once a property is on the Land Register, they are contained in one place on your title sheet.

Future transactions

A purchase, sale, lease or refinance of your property is more straightforward with a land registered title. With everything contained in one place on a title sheet, future transactions are simpler and this in turn can reduce the time and cost involved. Any possible title issues can be addressed in advance as part of the voluntary registration process.

Control

The landowner is very much in control of the voluntary registration process. A new deed plan can be prepared and this gives you the chance to review all boundaries and check that the new plan matches your understanding of your property.

Convenience

With no transaction driving the timescale for completing registration, the process can be done at a pace that suits you.

Succession planning

Having a registered title can be useful from a succession planning point of view: ensuring what you pass on to the next generation is completely accurate.

State backed warranty

On registering your title, you will receive a state-backed guarantee. The Keeper of the Registers of Scotland will warrant your title sheet is accurate. Providing reassurance to the property owner, as well as any potential purchaser or lender, the Keeper may have to pay compensation if any inaccuracy comes to light further down the road.

What should I do?

There is a 25% discount on fees for voluntary registrations until mid-2019, so now is the ideal time to start the process, if cost is a concern.

However, no two properties are the same, and every landowner will face different issues. You may need to weigh the benefit of voluntarily registering your title against the cost of doing so.

It is worth considering whether you do have any uncertainties with your title - would addressing these make the voluntary registration of your land worthwhile?

If you own large areas of land, such as a farm, then there will likely be merit in doing so, and you’ll be able to correct any boundary concerns you have.

Regardless of whether - on the face of it - you think voluntary registration is the right option for you, it is something that calls for careful consideration.

Lois Craig

Aberdeen-based solicitor Lois Craig specialises in agriculture and rural law. She regularly advises clients on agricultural leases, the purchase and sale of rural properties, security work and land reform issues.

Posted, 28 September 2017 by Lois Craig
Categories: Commercial property | Private client | Residential property | Rural

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