Landlords urged to step up guard against property fraud – land registry

In a bid to counteract ever-increasing property fraud, The Land Registry has waived its fees for landlords who want to introduce an extra security function.

As from this week, landlords will not have to pay to have a restriction entered on their property deeds at the Land Registry. The restriction is designed to help prevent forgery by requiring that a solicitor or conveyancer must certify that they are satisfied that the person selling or mortgaging the property is the true owner.

Owner occupiers will continue to pay a small fee for the charge, but the new exemption extends to buy-to-let investors and others not living in the property they wish to protect – for example, elderly people in long-term care or people who have moved out of their home after a relationship breakdown.

Landlords are at a proven higher risk of property fraud than owner-occupiers, and there have been cases where tenants have passed themselves off as the owner of the property and attempted to sell it or raise money on it via a mortgage.

The Land Registry must, by law, compensate owners of registered property if there is fraud. In 2010, 30 of the 71 claims paid out by the Land Registry for fraud and forgery were by non-family members. Of these, 23 involved properties with an absent owner and amounted to £2m out of the total £7.3m compensation paid.

Landlords are urged to take steps to prevent ID and property fraud:

    •    Use the Post Office’s mail redirection service if you have lived in the property yourself and are now renting it out. Use the service for at least a year.

    •    Be extremely careful about details you give out on social networking sites like Facebook. Do not give out personal information such as date of birth.

    •    Ensure that all your properties are registered with the Land Registry.

    •    Ensure that all your contact details are updated and correct, so that the Land Registry can get hold of you if it wants to query anything.

    •    Utilise the Land Registry facility to have three addresses on the register. Email addresses, as well as physical addresses, can be included.

    •    Finally, use the free (as from February 1) facility described above to enter a restriction on your property, requiring your solicitor to certify that the person attempting to sell or mortgage the property is the owner.

Malcolm Dawson, Chief Land Registrar, said: “It is important to let home owners know what simple steps they can take to protect their property – one of which is now the ability for those at greatest risk to have a free restriction entered which might prevent their property from being targeted by fraudsters and stolen unawares.

“We have introduced a range of additional safeguards in the last four years and we also work closely with other organisations to do all we can to tackle fraud and identify and take corrective action when it has happened.

“But home owners must also be vigilant and play their own part in protecting their properties against fraud.”