There has been some alarming media coverage recently about house theft, two men who had their houses stolen in the last two years.
It’s shocking to think that this can be done.
Radio 4s Winifred Robinson’s ‘You and Yours’ Consumer protection programmes on 27.10.22 and 2.11.22 covered this.
The first house owner – Mike
Reverend Mike Hall lives and works in North Wales but owns/owned a house in Luton which was unoccupied. His house was broken into and the locks changed. The house was then sold to new owners who paid £135,000 for the house, half its actual value in 2021.
Even when the police got involved they initially treated it as a civil, not criminal matter. It was the new owners who appeared on the Title at Land Registry so Mike could not have his property back. The new owners, a family, had bought in ‘Good Faith’.
Mike used form AP1 at Land Registry along with evidence to apply to get his house back. This is ongoing over 12 months later.
The second house owner and renovator – Angus
Angus bought his dilapidated Victorian property in Southampton at Auction for £180,000 in 2018. It took him 18 months to renovate it from its dilapidated state to a home. He got a job in Cornwall so decided to rent it. He advertised through a well-known Estate Agent for a ‘tenant’ called ‘Steven Jones’. ‘Steven’ paid the rent, bills and Council Tax.
‘Steven’ took out a tenancy with a fake ID. ‘Steven Jones’ then posed as an Estate Agent to sell the property for about £190,000. Angus believes the true value was around £240,000 -£250,000. He only discovered the situation when Southampton Council contacted him to say someone else was living at the property. Angus subsequently discovered he no longer appeared as the owner on the Title at Land Registry.
Unfortunately Angus is now without a home and living with his parents. The local MP Caroline Nokes has taken up the case to try to sharpen up Land Registry processes.
Identity Theft used to steal houses
It appears that both thefts took place using fake identities. The fraudsters applied for, and got, a genuine duplicate driver’s licence but changed the picture. Using this they then got utility bills for the property and used those to set up Bank Accounts in the name of the original owner. They may have used the same solicitor, then bought gold with the proceeds and vanished.
Let’s get House theft in context
To put this in context the Land Registry says that of the 5 million transactions 2021, 63 were fraudulent or appeared to be. They are governed by the Land Registration Act 2002 and so they have to be sure of someone’s identity which makes it challenging to reverse these situations and even more important to protect yourself.
What can you do to prevent house theft?
Not only do you need to be aware of the danger of Identity theft, but also the way in which house-theft can take place. There are some simple and straightforward preventative steps you can take to protect your property and de-risk the situation.
Land Registry checks for your house
1. Ensure Land Registry has the latest up-to-date address for you. You are allowed up to 3 and one can be an email address. So if you move, make sure you notify Land Registry
2. Register for the Property Alerts – these will contact owner if there is any activity on the Title of that property. I do this and have in fact actually scared myself. I leapt into action when I got one of these email alerts, only to realise there was activity owing to a mortgage registration. So they do work and are free
3. Put a restriction on the Title to help prevent a fraudulent sale. This is less straight forward but you can do it yourself without a lawyer. Completing the RX1 form is where to start but it will take time to choose which restriction and therefore which additional form applies to your particular situation. This is not part of the standard conveyancing process in England and Wales so if you want your solicitor to do this you need to request it. If you don’t live in the property then it is a RQ form you need.
Additional prudent measures to protect you house
4. Having a mortgage on the house provides an additional layer of security. Your lender takes a charge on the property and so would be notified of activity on the Title. There may be circumstances when keeping a small mortgage on a property could be beneficial for you.
5. You ought to conduct strong tenant checks or at least work with a good, Letting or Managing Agent with a strong reputation will help.
6. Guard and protect your ‘Identity’ as much as possible
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Inspired by You and Yours BBC Radio 4 programme 27.10.22 and 2.11.22
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