Do we have to get missing deeds for a house we want to buy?
Property Clinic: Your questions and queries answered
I am trying to buy a house however the seller is not in possession of the original planning or title deeds for the house. They are trying to push the sale through and put the emphasis on me to get the necessary documentation from the council. They have informed my solicitor that the council has misplaced the deeds and planning documentation but as it was built in the 1980s it is okay to sell without these? In this situation, who must provide this documentation?
It is entirely the vendor’s obligation to prove a good marketable title to your solicitor. It is neither your solicitor’s problem nor yours. “Marketable” means a property with a good root of title (space does not permit a full explanation here but your solicitor will oblige – basically a freehold title or a leasehold with at least 75 years left to run), whose planning status is in order (no unauthorised developments/changes of use) and with adequate access to services (it abuts a public road and connects to a public water main and sewer).
As regards planning, there is a Law Society practice direction that solicitors need not insist on an architect’s opinion on compliance with planning permission for houses erected before 1975 as it was not common practice before that time for architects or engineers to certify compliance. However, this still does not mean that a vendor need not produce any planning permission for the property.
It is not clear from your question why the council holds the deeds. Was the property constructed by the local authority? Did the vendor have a loan from the local authority? If the house was built by the council it may be the case that planning permission was not required but the vendor or their solicitor should still be able to produce a letter from the local authority to confirm this.
Normally title is held by the owner of the property or, if the owner has granted a mortgage to a lender, by the lender. There is a procedure called Accountable Trust Receipt whereby a solicitor with the written authority of the client can take up the title on trust from a lender for a sale, remortgage or whatever. If a lender has misplaced title then it follows that the property owner is entitled to be compensated by the lender for the cost of having to reconstruct the title.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the loss or misplacement of the title, it is the vendor’s responsibility to sort it out – not yours.
Paul Stack is a solicitor at P & G Stack Solicitors