Article - Property Law & Practice

Property Law Changes in 2003

The Land Registration Act 2002 (LRA) and its offspring, the Land Registration Rules 2003, which came into force on October 13, have brought massive changes to Property Law.

The LRA is the biggest single legislative change to property law since 1925, when solicitors retired in droves rather than trying to work out how the new legislation would work. On the whole, it worked very well and I have never noticed any groundswell of opinion among clients or within the profession that change to the extent we have now was necessary.

For those analogue people who prefer their watches to have big and little hands, the LRA, which makes title deeds and documents (land and charge certificates) completely obsolete, may be too much to bear. We have been retaining pre-registration deeds for years despite the protests from lenders that the cost of deed storage and retrieval has grown. On more than one occasion, these old and obsolete deeds have given answers to questions of title that land certificates did not. Now the answers are going to be harder to find as time passes and lenders do not retain any documents at all.

Do not be surprised if your solicitor sends you old documents and tells you to keep them safely. Equally, do not be surprised if the property you are buying is not progressing because there are a number of unanswered issues that are not disclosed in the registered title and the seller has lost the documents his solicitor asked him to keep safely! But, if it's in the interests of e-conveyancing, it must be good, mustn't it?

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) has finished off the year a close second to the LRA. Stamp duty, which has been around for more than 200 years, has been abolished and will shuffle off like hereditary peers.

SDLT affects most land transactions that have taken place since 1 December 2003 . It is more like other mainstream taxes, such as income and corporation tax, as it has tax returns and self assessments. I recently worked my way through the new SDLT 1 form, which runs to six pages and replaces the old one-page form. It took me 40 minutes to complete, whereas the old form took two minutes and, although I will get quicker with practice, I cannot see me getting it down to anything like two minutes (filling in the form that is).

Much of the required information, which clients have to verify, is of interest to no-one but big brother, who will be watching you even more closely.

The SDLT on a lease of 15 years at an annual rate of 40,000 is now 5,500. Before December 1, the stamp duty on the same lease was 940. But, if it's in the interests of e-conveyancing, it must be good!

Solicitors would be retiring in droves if their Equitable Life pensions were up to it...

Article First Published: 21 December 2003

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