In the case of unregistered land, a search is made at the Land Charges Department at Plymouth by submitting Form K15 after paying the appropriate fees. The fee is paid through the credit account of the conveyancing solicitor obtained through his key number. The official certificate of result provides a priority period of 15 working days. Thus, the buyer is protected against entries that may be made on the Register during the priority period, provided that he completes the search within this time frame.
The search application can be made by post, telephone, fax, or telex. If the title was deduced before exchange and a search was carried out at the pre-contract stage, the search is now required to be made only against the current seller’s name. This is to make sure that no enquiries have been made against the seller’s name since the date of the previous search. Further enquiries that are made against the name of previous estate owners shall not be valid once they have disposed off their land, and hence they need not be searched.
Form of the register
The register contains name of estate owners of land along with details of the charges registered against these names. Thus, the search is not made against the land, but against the names of people believed to be the owner. These searches are made on payment of a fee and against all those whose names appear in the abstract of title. In fact, it should also be made against those whose names are merely referred in the body of deeds or in schedules attached to the deeds. Once a proper search certificate made against the previous owner is provided in the abstract, such searches need not be repeated.
The name entered in the application form should be checked properly and the conveyancing solicitor should ensure that it is identical to that shown in the title deed. This is because the Register is maintained electronically in a computer and will only make an exact version search. Thus, variations of names if any should be clearly mentioned. For instance, if Samuel Smith is referred to as Sam Smith, Samuel James Smith, or Samuel Smyth, all of these references should entered in the form and a separate fee is payable in respect of each name.
Period to be searched against
An entry made against a person’s name is effective only until the person’s ownership of the land. Thus, a search against the name can be made only for this period or until the time between his death and the date of appointment of personal representatives. The search form should also make a mention of the period of ownership; this can be deduced from the abstract or epitome of title supplied by the seller.
When the period of ownership is not known as is the case when searching against a person whose name is mentioned in the root title, the search is usually made from the year 1926. If a property was disposed off voluntarily not less than 5 years ago (from the date of contract), the name of the donor should be checked to make sure that he was not declared bankrupt during this period. A bankruptcy could lead to a disposition that was set aside by the trustee in bankruptcy.
Description of the land
It is important that a description of land is entered in the search application form, or the computer would produce entries of people with the given name in the entire country or the county mentioned. It can be time consuming to read all these entries and reject the ones that are not applicable. To avoid this, a brief description of the land must be made. But care should be taken to ensure that the description is accurate, or else the correct entry would not be revealed.
This is especially true when the abstract or epitome reveals that the land is a part of larger land because the land may have been known by a description that is different from the current one. When the search is restricted to the current address, entries registered under the previous description shall not be revealed. Hence, both current as well as previous description should be entered in the application form.
It is also possible that due to a local government reorganization, a land that was previously situated in a different administrative county, is now included under another. Thus, both previous and current counties should be mentioned in the application form. It is also possible that the postal address of the property is different from its administrative address. In such an instance, the actual address and not the postal address must be entered in the search form.
Pre-root estate owners
A buyer need not search against the name of owners who held the land before the date when the root title was supplied to him, except when these names are revealed to him in the documents supplied by the seller.
Official certificate of search
An official certificate of search shall remain final, unless the search is correctly made and extends the entire period of title mentioned by the seller. Also, the certificate of search must have been made;
a) Against the correct name of the estate owner for the period.
b) Against the correct county or former county, and
c) For the correct period of ownership of the owner.
For the buyer to claim protection provided by the search certificate and also during the priority period, it is important that the search form is accurate and filled completely.
Search certificate supplied by the seller
When the seller offers previous search certificates of searches made by him, as evidence of title, it is not necessary to repeat these searches. But the search certificate should not have adverse entries, and
a) Should have been made against the correct name of the owner as it is revealed in the deed.
b) Should have been made for the correct period of ownership by the person.
c) Should have been made against the correct description as mentioned in the deed.
d) The next sale should have taken place within the priority period of the search certificate.
When any one of the above conditions is not met, the buyer’s conveyancing solicitor should make a further search against the owner.
Photo courtesy: Elliott Brown