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Register This!

27 Aug 2010

Don’t ask me why but there are two systems of registration of deeds in Northern Ireland; the Registry of Deeds and the Land Registry. While they co-exist in apparent harmony, and indeed occupy the same building, they operate as two separate worlds spinning on their own axes. A short summary of their functions will hopefully explain why.

Registry of Deeds.

The Registry of Deeds registers any deed properly lodged with a memorial, and stamps the deed as registered on a certain date. The Registry operates to prove the date of registration of a document and thereby give it priority over any other later deed. The Registry will not check the validity of the deed nor do they check that the person executing the deed even owns the property. The cost of registration of a deed is a snip at £18, and let’s face it, for eighteen pounds can we really expect them to check very much. In theory I could submit a deed transferring Stormont and it would probably come back registered.

The Registry maintains a register of transactions against names and that makes it difficult to use when trying to trace the ownership of a piece of land. In effect you can only use the Registry successfully to trace ownership if you already know the identity of the owner. Given its limitations, you may start to think that there must be a better way.

Land Registry.

The Land Registry takes pride, and with some justification, in being the better way. Any deed lodged in the Land Registry will be subject to checks before registration, and where it involves a sale of a piece of land the Land Registry will check any map submitted for accuracy. In Land Registry therefore they will check not only ownership but also the boundaries. While a deed in the Registry of Deeds will be back within a few days by contrast a deed in Land Registry may not be registered for several months, allow that is improving.
But as with most things you get what you pay for and by contrast with the Registry of Deed’s modest fee of £18, it will cost you anything up to £450 to register a deed with Land Registry. Maybe the Registry of Deeds isn’t so bad after all.

Unfortunately our time now left to appreciate the Registry of Deeds is running out. For the past few years solicitors have had to operate a third system called Compulsory First Registration. The effect of this is that any property formerly registered in the Registry of Deeds must now be transferred into the Land Registry and registered there as soon as it is sold. This process over time will move all title deeds into the Land Registry, and as a result all the title deeds registered in the Registry of Deeds will eventually become obsolete.

It will be a bit of a shame when the old bundles of title deeds are replaced by new slim-line Land Certificates. Every set of deeds tells a story of deaths, marriages, and bankruptcy. In some cases the story goes back to the streets built by Belfast’s early industrialists, and mortgages given by Temperance Societies. All life is there in those creaking documents and while I will not miss the obligation to sit down and read a full set of deeds, I will miss a little of the social history that they inevitably contained.