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Constituents often ask their Members of Parliament, “who owns that empty property or piece of land?” Although a simple question, it is not straightforward to answer.

Property in England and Wales can be either registered or unregistered and the steps involved in tracing ownership will vary accordingly. Any member of the public can search online the Land Registry (a fee is payable). The Library cannot undertake Land Registry searches on behalf of constituents.

If the property or land is registered, then a Land Registry search should reveal the owner(s) name. If the property is unregistered, then matters become more difficult. Lack of registration does not mean that a piece of land is not owned but ascertaining who owns the land may involve some investigatory work. Owners of unregistered land will have a bundle of paper deeds, which form a record of previous sales, mortgages and other dealings with the land. In cases where there is no legal owner, the property may have become bona vacantia and have reverted to the Crown.

This briefing paper provides information on how to trace ownership of a property or piece of land (section 3), in the process it also provides a summary of land ownership (section 1) and what is meant by registered and unregistered land (section 2). This briefing paper is concerned with England and Wales only; Scotland has its own land law. Northern Ireland and Scotland also have their own land registries.

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