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When the houses in my area in England were built, a small patch of land remained unused / not build on. This was about 50 years ago. While all other land was sold off with the houses, this patch of land remained to be owned by the company that build the houses.

About 30 years ago the owners dissolved the company. Land registry lists the dissolved company still as the owner, and the owners of the company can no longer be found.

What happens to the ownership of this land? Will it now forever be owned by a no longer existing entity or can an official entity (like the local council) step in and take ownership?

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    Presumably someone is still paying the taxes?
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 14, 2022 at 13:00
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    @ohwilleke what taxes would be payable on a strip of land with nothing build on it?
    – Edders
    Nov 14, 2022 at 15:19
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    @Edders don't know about the UK, but in many places just owning the land will make you liable for taxes. In France for instance it's called the "taxe foncière sur les propriétés non bâties". There are quite a few exceptions depending on the nature and use of the land, though.
    – jcaron
    Nov 15, 2022 at 9:38
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    So I misread this as "What happens with the ownership of land where the land no longer exists?" and now I'm wondering about that question.
    – Andy
    Nov 15, 2022 at 18:32
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    @Andy that reminded me of coastal erosion, where bits of coast gets washed away over time. Would that mean owning a bit of sea now? Interesting..
    – Edders
    Nov 16, 2022 at 12:29

1 Answer 1

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In the general case, when a company is dissolved any assets still belonging to it becomes bona vacantia under Section 1012 of the Companies Act 2006 which means that it belongs to the Crown.

The Crown can then choose to disclaim its rights to the asset under Section 1013, and typically will do this where there are risks involved (e.g. leasehold land). The effect of dislaimer, per Sections 1014 and 1015 is that the "property is deemed not to have vested in the Crown" and it terminates "the rights, interests and liabilities of the company in or in respect of the property disclaimed".

In the case of freehold land that is disclaimed, it escheats (transfers) to the Crown Estate and the freehold interest is extinguished. According to Practical Law (paywall):

Note, if the land is registered, the registered title will remain and the Land Registrar may enter a notice on the Land Registry title if notified (rule 173, Land Registration Rules 2003). The notice will recite the fact of the liquidator's disclaimer or Crown disclaimer but will not otherwise specify that the land has passed by escheat.

The Crown Estate then becomes entitled (but not obliged) to take possession of it. The Crown Estate will not assume any liabilities as owner of the land unless it does take possession or exercises control over the property. The result of this is that the only action the Crown Estate will generally take as regards escheated land is to sell the whole of the land to a suitable buyer who approaches the Crown Estate.

You can read more about how the Crown Estate subsequently deals with such property (including if and how it sells the property) in their FAQs.

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    There are two exceptions to this rule: the county palatines of Cornwall and Lancaster. In both cases the Duke was granted bona vicantia rights, and property traditionally passes to the relevant trust which uses it to fund charitable purposes. Nov 15, 2022 at 12:04

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