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Buying a Property - Legal Issues to be Aware of

Buying a Property - Legal Issues to be Aware of

19 August 2014

Property ownership can be a legal minefield, and a high proportion of litigation in the UK involves homeowners in dispute. Below is some advice on how to minimise the risk of facing a claim when you buy a house.

1. Leasehold or Freehold?

Properties can be owned on a leasehold, or freehold basis. If you are a freeholder, it means you have absolute ownership of the land. A leasehold interest however means that there is a separate freehold owner and the terms of your ownership are governed by a lease, but you get exclusive possession of the property. The lease is usually for hundreds of years and you will find that the freeholder will probably be a property developer of some sort.

If the lease is shorter than 100 years, try and get it renewed, or ask your solicitor about buying the freehold. Leasehold land usually comes with a condition to pay ground rent, or maintenance charges if the estate is managed by a company. This is usually a small amount of money but if there is a lease, get advice on it – the terms could contain obligations you may have to comply with and it is better to know where you stand.

2. Neighbour Issues:

With more and more people living in close proximity in the UK, it is always a good idea to try and learn more about the neighbours. Your solicitors will send a questionnaire to the seller which will ask about neighbour issues and the seller must answer fully and truthfully. If you want to know more however, there is nothing to stop you submitting another questionnaire with your own questions.

If your future neighbours are building on their land and you want to know whether the seller has done anything about it, ask to see copies of any plans or notices that the neighbour has issued. If you are worried about noise nuisance, ask the seller to give details of any disturbances they can remember and how it was dealt with.

3. Rights of Way:

Many houses share driveways, or walkways. If the property you are buying benefits from a right of way, check with your solicitor that it’s recorded in the deeds and ask the seller whether access has ever been prevented. If someone else has a right of way over your land, make sure your solicitor explains the basis and extent of that right so you don’t fall foul of it.

4. Covenants:

Sometimes when you buy a property, you will see a covenant contained in the deeds. A covenant is a promise made from one landowner to the other, and it is enforceable if the landlowner bound by the promise (“the promisor”) is in breach.

Some title deeds still record old covenants dating back around 50 years or even earlier and they may contain bizarre obligations such as the duty not to allow horses to graze on the property, or a promise not to keep a caravan. Covenants can still be enforced many years later, depending on the circumstances – and it is important to remember that they bind the land, and not one individual landowner.

If you are unsure where you stand, you might want to ask about getting an insurance policy, which typically costs £200 to £400 as a one-off premium. Then if you do end up facing a claim from a pernickety neighbour, you have insurance cover to pay for any damages or costs.

5. Boundaries:

The seller will inform you where the property’s boundaries are, and who has responsibility for maintaining them. It is helpful to be aware of this from the beginning as it saves arguments with your new neighbours, and of course it will help you protect your rights if anyone tries to knock down your garden wall.

6. Insurance:

You should always get buildings insurance and contents insurance for your new property. If ever you do have a problem after you’ve moved in, your insurance may cover you and it may pay your legal costs if you ever get into a dispute.

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