Title deeds are the legal documents which show who owns a property or piece of land. This page explains what title deeds are for, where they are kept and what you need to do if you want to change them.
What are title deeds?
Title deeds are the legal documents which show who officially owns a house, land or other type of building (known as 'heritable property'). Title deeds also show if there is a mortgage over the house and will give details of any access or other rights (sometimes known as 'burdens') that come with, or are excluded from, the house.
In order to officially record or register your ownership of a property, title deeds in your name have to be registered in the Land Register of Scotland or recorded in the General Register of Sasines. The Land Register of Scotland and the Register of Sasines are official records of who owns property in Scotland. Both of them are kept up-to-date by the Registers of Scotland in Edinburgh.
What do title deeds look like?
Sometimes title deeds are really old documents containing complicated language that is hard to read, or sometimes they are more modern documents called 'Land Certificates'. The type of deeds your house has depends on how old your house is and when you, and the previous owner, bought it. It doesn't matter whether the deeds for your house are old or new, it's what's in them that's important. Your solicitor will be able to work this out and explain any issues to you.
Where are the title deeds to my home kept?
It's very important that your title deeds are kept in a safe place. This is because they are the legal documents that prove you're the owner of the property. If you have a mortgage, they're also your lender's security in your house if you stop repaying your mortgage.
It's also important to keep them safe because they'll be needed if:
- you want to check any of the details about your home (for example, where the boundaries are, or whether you have any responsibility to maintain or repair common areas of the building you live in)
- you want to sell the property, or give it to someone
- you die.
If you don't have a mortgage, your title deeds will be sent to your solicitor when they have been registered or recorded. You can either choose to keep them yourself or ask your solicitor to keep them in their office. If you do keep them yourself, make sure you put them in a very safe place, for example, a fireproof safe.
If you have a mortgage, your mortgage lender will keep the title deeds to your home as security against the loan. If you ever need to see the deeds (for example, to check the boundaries of your property or to find out about shared responsibilities for repairs), ask your solicitor and they will arrange this for you. Once your mortgage is fully paid up, the deeds will be returned to you, although you'll have to pay a charge to get them back.
You can ask for a photocopy of your deeds at any time but you might be charged for this so find out the cost in advance.
What if I don't know where the deeds are?
If you can't find your title deeds or can't remember who has them, don't panic. Your solicitor should be able to get copies of your deeds for you at any time. Depending on whether your deeds are old or new, and also where they are kept, you may have to pay a charge to get copies. Your solicitor will be able to give you more details about this.
You may also be able to order a copy of your deeds online from the Registers of Scotland. Again, you'll probably have to pay to get copies.
What do title deeds say?
The titles deeds tell you:
- who owns (or has 'title to') the property
- where the boundaries of the property are (depending on the age of your home, there may be a map marking out the plot you own included with the deeds)
- if there are any additional responsibilities (or 'burdens') which come with ownership of the home.
What are burdens?
'Burdens' are obligations on you, as the owner of the property, to do certain things. Burdens are written into your title deeds and can cover a variety of different things. For example, burdens can be:
- repair and maintenance responsibilities for common areas around your property, such as the stairwell or roof - for example, the deeds may state whether there is a factor in charge of arranging repairs and maintenance, or whether responsibility is divided between the residents. The deeds may also state what proportion of any repairs you have to pay for.
- access rights to and from the property and any communal areas - for example, whether you own any paths or roads that lead to your property
- any restrictions on alterations you can make to the property
- any other restrictions, for example, that you're not allowed to run a business from the home, or that you're not allowed to keep certain pets on the property.
If there's anything on your title deeds you don't understand, you can ask your solicitor to explain it to you.
What if I own my home jointly with someone else?
If you own your home jointly with someone else (for example, your spouse or partner, or a friend or family member), the title deeds should also set out:
- how your shares in the property are divided, and
- what happens to your shares if either of you dies (this is called a 'survivorship clause').
These decisions should be made when you and the other owner(s) buy the property - read the page on buying a home with other people to find out more.
Can I change the title deeds?
You may wish to change the title deeds if:
- you want to take a joint owner's name off the deeds (for example, if your partner is moving out of the family home and transferring the property into your name, or if you're buying another joint owner out), or
- you want to make someone else a joint owner with you (for example, if you want to transfer a share of the property into your partner's name, or you want to sell a share of the property to someone else).
If you want to change the deeds, speak to your solicitor, as they will have to carry out the necessary legal work and record the new information in the relevant land register. Your solicitor will charge for this, so make sure you get an estimate in advance.
If you have a mortgage, you'll also have to get your lender to agree to any changes in writing before you do anything. If there are any joint owners, they'll also have to agree to any changes. You'll also have to write to your lender, asking them to send the title deeds to your solicitor. Once they have changed the deeds, your solicitor will return them to your mortgage lender.
The page on buying a home with other people has more information on buying and selling a share in a property.
My name isn't on the title deeds - do I have any rights?
If your name isn't on the title deeds, you may still have a right to live in the property. This may be the case if:
- you bought the property jointly with someone else but decided that your name wouldn't go on the deeds - in this case you should have had another legal agreement drawn up when you bought the home to prove this (the page on buying a home with other people has more information on this)
- you are the wife, husband, civil partner or partner of the owner whose name is on the deeds - in this case you should have occupancy rights
- you are a tenant.
How do I find out who owns a property?
If you need to find out who owns a property (for example, if the house next door to you is derelict and you want to contact the owner, or if you are interested in buying land next to your property and want to know who owns it), you can carry out a search on the Registers of Scotland website. You will be charged a fee for this. Alternatively, you can report derelict or empty homes by contacting the Empty Homes Advice Service, who work with neighbours and home owners to bring houses back into use.