English land law is the law of real property in England and Wales. Because of its heavy historical and social significance, land is usually seen as the most important part of English property law. Ownership of land has its roots in the feudal system established by William the Conqueror after 1066, and with a gradually diminishing aristocratic presence, now sees a large number of owners playing in an active market for real estate. The modern law’s sources derive from the old courts of common law and equity, along with legislation such as the Law of Property Act 1925, the Settled Land Act 1925, the Land Charges Act 1972, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 and the Land Registration Act 2002. At its core, English land law involves the acquisition, content and priority of rights and obligations among people with interests in land. Having a property right in land, as opposed to a contractual or some other personal right, matters because it creates privileges over other people’s claims, particularly if the land is sold on, the possessor goes insolvent, or when claiming various remedies, like specific performance, in court.
The traditional content of English land law relates to property rights that derive from common law, equity and the registration system. Ordinarily, ownership of land is acquired by a contract of sale, and to complete a purchase, the buyer must formally register their interest with HM Land Registry. Similar systems run in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Around 15 per cent of land in England and Wales remains unregistered, so property disputes are still determined by principles developed by the courts. Human rights, like the right to a family life and home under ECHR article 8 and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, under article 1 of the First Protocol, apply for everyone, although examples of human rights defeating a landowner’s reliance on their property rights is rare. Aside from sale contracts, people may acquire interests in land through contributions to a home’s purchase price, or to family life, if the courts can find evidence of a common intention that this should happen. The law acknowledges a “resulting” or “constructive trust” over the property, and in recognition of people’s social interests in their homes, as with a lease under 7 years length, these do not need to be registered. Third, people can acquire land through proprietary estoppel. If someone is given an assurance that they will receive property, and they rely on this to their detriment, a court may acknowledge it. Fourth, adverse possession allows people who possess land, without formal objection by the owner, although this is now difficult to achieve in respect of a registered title. Multiple people can be interested in land, and it can be used in multiple ways. There could be a single freeholder, or people can own land jointly. The law closely regulates the circumstances under which each may sever or sell their share. Leases, and to some degree licenses, allocate the use of land to new owners for a period of time. Mortgages and other forms of security interest are usually used to give moneylenders the right to seize property if the debtor does not repay a loan. Easements and covenants involve rights and duties between neighbours, for instance with an agreement that a neighbour will not build on a piece of land, or to grant a right of way