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Murray Beith Murray is a leading Scottish private client law firm.

For over 170 years we have specialised in meeting the legal, financial and administrative needs of individuals and families, family trusts, charities and private companies.

Obtaining title to no-man’s land

Did you know that you can register title to land you do not own, subject to compliance with a strict statutory process?

Under new rules introduced five years ago, you can achieve this by registering an a non domino disposition at the Registers of Scotland (“Registers”). Murray Beith Murray successfully registered one of the first of these dispositions for our clients, Broxburn Browns Ltd, in relation to a car park*.

Following legislation introduced in 2012, a number of steps must be followed to acquire valid title without it being granted by a title holder, which are set out below.

Identifying and Notifying the True Owner
Firstly, an attempt must be made to find the true owner of the land. Notice of an intention to acquire title to their land must then be served on the owner in the statutory form giving 60 days to object. If there is no traceable owner, you would be required to notify any party that could have an interest, such as The Crown or Local Authority.

In the case of Broxburn Browns Ltd, a food wholesale distributor based on the outskirts of Edinburgh, we discovered title to the car park was held by a company based in England. We served notice on the owner and no objection was received. 

Evidence
At the end of this 60 day notice period, an application can be made to the Registers to register the a non domino disposition of the land in question. This application must include evidence that you have possessed the land without any interruption or objection from another party, for a minimum period of only one year. Possession in the legal context does not necessarily mean you have to inhabit the property but rather that you can demonstrate, for example, maintenance, fencing off or vehicle parking (as in the case with Broxburn Browns). Acceptable evidence would include photographs showing the land fenced off, invoices for maintenance, and sworn statements (affidavits) of employees/neighbours attesting to this possession. 

Submitting the Application to Register the a non domino disposition
Once the Registers receive the a non domino disposition and the evidence, they must satisfy themselves that there is no objection from the owner of the land. They must then serve a further 60 day notice on the owner allowing them to object.

Registration
On expiry of this second 60 day notice period, the a non domino disposition will be accepted for registration. The title sheet that is produced will expressly qualify that ownership is provisional on there being open and peaceable possession for a period of ten years, after which the title is unchallengeable. 

A Useful Tool
Clearly this can be a useful tool to obtain title to land you do not own, subject to compliance with a strict statutory process.

At Murray Beith Murray we have seen first-hand that an a non domino disposition can provide the route to a positive outcome. If you are considering such a disposition and would like an informal discussion about how we might help, please get in touch with Bill Meldrum in our Commercial Property Team.

*Case study used by kind permission of our client, Broxburn Browns Ltd.

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