“Our solicitor damaged our property deeds” – Gemma Mallett responds to a reader’s question for Choice Magazine

04 / 05 / 2018

Graduate Member of CILEx, Gemma Mallett, has responded to a reader’s question regarding damaged property deeds for Choice Magazine:

Q: Late last year we received a letter from the solicitors who were holding the deeds to our house, stating that we could either collect them or leave them with the solicitor at a cost of £60 a year. We went to collect the deeds and added them to a box at home containing all our private papers.

Having watched a TV programme which traced people living in a Georgian house, I decided to look at our deeds to see who might have previously lived in our house. To my astonishment I found them to be in appalling condition. They had obviously been kept in a damp place; the pages were falling apart and some were in shreds. They had been with the solicitor for some 20 years.

Can the solicitor be held responsible for their condition and obliged to restore them? Indeed, can deeds be copied? When our house is sold, probably following our demise, what will the consequences be for our children with deeds in this condition?

A: The likely consequences resulting from damaged deeds will depend on whether your property is registered or unregistered. In either scenario, your solicitor may have kept copies which he can send to you.

If your property is registered at the Land Registry, your title to the property will be protected by way of the Land Registry title. The Land Registry records details of your property and names you as registered owner. A copy can easily be obtained. It may also hold copies of any deeds referred to in your title which can be obtained for a fee.

If your solicitor is responsible for destruction of the original deeds, you may ask him to obtain copies of the deeds from the Land Registry at his own cost.

In the unlikely event your property is unregistered, it would be sensible to apply to the Land Registry for it to be registered by way of first registration. This will be beneficial to your children when they inherit.

The Land Registry will require copies of documents showing the chain of ownership going back at least 15 years.

Your solicitor is obliged under the Solicitors Regulation Authority Principle 10 to protect your assets and, if the destruction of your deeds was their fault, they should assist you to register your property. Your solicitor would need to make a Statement of Truth to account for the events which have resulted in the destruction of the deeds and should attempt to reconstruct them. Otherwise, you may have a claim against them.

It would be best to ask your solicitor to confirm whether your property is registered and if he has copies of the deeds, and then discuss the points above in detail.

This article was originally published in print by Choice Magazine.