Most have heard about the rise in identity theft which was recently highlighted by a report in the Observer online and hopefully we are all taking steps to minimize the chances of it occurring. But many will not be aware of property title fraud where fraudsters also steal legitimate property titles.
By impersonating the real owner of the property, such fraudsters can take out a mortgage on the property they do not own, keep the money thus leaving the real owners a huge mortgage and terrible debt to pay off.
Sadly, property title theft is also on the increase which has resulted in millions of pounds in compensation. One of the major difficulties with property title fraud is realising it has occurred since most owners have no idea what is happening until they try to sell their property, only to find that someone else has claimed title and re-mortgaged the property! In one particularly high-profile case, the Land Registry was required to pay out roughly £8million to two property developers who were fraudulently sold a 47-acre Berkshire estate. Four pensioners had lodged forged documents with the Land Registry, allowing them to masquerade as the owners and swindle £6.5million from the developers in 2004.
The Land Registry claims that the act of fraud is usually committed before they even become involved in the sale of a property. The majority of property frauds are perpetrated before registration: for example by impersonating the registered proprietor and obtaining a mortgage, a transaction which Land Registry would have no involvement with until after the money had been forwarded by the lender and the fraud had been successfully completed. However until 2003, watermarked land certificates were issued as proof of ownership, but these were done away with after the introduction of an online system.
What properties are being targeted by fraudsters?
Any property is a potential target but mortgage free, rental and unregistered properties are typical targets.
What can I do to prevent property title fraud?
Firstly keep your identity safe at all times ie signatures, bank details, statements, pin numbers, driving license etc. Such documents landing on the doormat of your buy to let property, rather than your home address is a typical cause. You could also speak to a specialist conveyancing solicitor who can assist you with updating your address for service details, or even place restrictions on the property, with the land registry. They will also be able to help you register your property with the land registry if it is currently un-registered.
What if I suspect my property title has been stolen?
Initially, checking with the Land Registry will confirm who the registered proprietors are and if there are any outstanding mortgages on the property. If this reveals other names or charges on the property you were not aware of, then you should contact specialist conveyancing solicitors or property lawyers who will be able to advise you accordingly. Property title fraud is a criminal offence and will involve the police and the land registry.
Creating your own right to manage company (or RTM company as it is also referred to as) can be a complicated process, therefore you should set yourself up for success by taking on a specialist RTM lawyer to help with all the legal processes. This article looks at the processes involved:
Help you manage the process:
One of the main things your right to manage solicitors can do is to help you manage the process. The right to manage your property is granted by the 2002 Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act, which lays out the timetable you need to follow when you put the process into motion. Your solicitors will be able to help ensure you stick to this timetable so that everything is done when it should be and you will have the best possible chance of successfully forming a right to manage company.
Right to manage solicitors will also be able to advise you on what to do at certain stages of the process. For instance, when you are just putting things into motion, they will be able to tell you whether or not you are eligible to form a right to manage company. If you have an absent landlord or would prefer to contact them through the solicitor, they can help you with this. They will also be able to take you through your next steps and tell you what information you will need to have ready at particular stages.
Serve Notice on the landlord:
Another thing that your solicitor can do is to take care of the legal part of the process. For instance, you will need to serve an invitation to participate in your RTM company to all qualifying leaseholders, as well as your current landlord. You will also need to serve a Notice of Claim to your landlord and deal with their subsequent Counter-Claim. This is something your solicitor will be able to manage with your input.
Transfer freehold ownership:
One final job of right to manage solicitors is to draw up the documents detailing the transfer of freehold ownership once your company has acquired the right to manage the premises. The freehold will be transferred from the current landlord to your company and your solicitor will be able to set out the documents detailing the terms of the transfer and the new legal arrangements put into place concerning the management of the premises following this.
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