Unregistered land is title is not recorded in an official register.

Registered land, on the other hand, is land to which title is registered formally on the Land Registry.

  • The number of registered houses is growing, making the law on unregistered land increasingly redundant. This is due to voluntary (Land Registration Act 2002, section 3) and compulsory (Land Registration Act 2002, section 4) registration of title.

Title to registered land is found in the title deeds and related document held by the estate owner (or his mortgagee).

However, title to unregistered land is founded upon unchallenged possession.

Possession can be established only by a person who is both in factual possession of the land and who intends to possess the land.


To demonstrate factual possession of land, the claimant must assert “complete and exclusive physical control” over the land (Buckinghamshire CC v Moran [1990] per Slade LJ).

  • In other words, the claimant must demonstrate that they (and they alone) have been dealing with the land as an occupying owner would be expected to deal with it.
  • An essential element of factual possession is control over the access of strangers to the land and their activities on the land. See, for example, the case of J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham (2003).


For a claimant to demonstrate an intention to posses land, they must intend “to exclude the world at large so far as is reasonably practicable” (Powell v Macfarlane (1977) per Slade J).

  • This intent to possess can be inferred from the factual possession. So, in practice, if a claimant factually possesses land it would be easy for them to prove they intend possess the land too.

 So, a claimant who behaves as if they own land satisfies both the physical and mental elements of “possession”. In the absence of a stonger claim to possession (see ‘Relativity of title’ below), the claimant is entitled to an estate in land.