Bromleys Update: Ask Our Experts – Q & A on Property Law with Paul Westwell

Narrowing the field

Q1. I am buying 20 acres of agricultural land and a search has turned up a covenant placed on it by the Church Commissioners. We don’t know what it relates to, and I have been advised to take out an indemnity policy to guard against future problems. Should we search further and risk uncovering bad news or let sleeping dogs lie?

A1. If the covenant is contained within the title deed which has since been lost and a copy is not retained at the Land Registry, title indemnity insurance may be your only option to resolve this title defect. If you undertake further investigations this may prevent you from being able to obtain indemnity cover. You should take advice from your solicitor if you intend to change the use of the land or develop it in future.


Under the hammer

Q2. I put my house on the market after a court hearing with my ex-wife. There was another application to reduce the asking price, and now my ex-wife is applying for the house to be put up for sale by auction. Is there anything I can do to stop this? My wife is living with another man, falsely claims all benefits and has recently shared in a large bingo win.

A2. Your ex-wife’s current circumstances have little bearing on what was initially decided in court when you divided up your assets on divorce. If she is living with another man it may ultimately affect any maintenance payments you make; and when she receives her share of the proceeds from the sale of the house she may lose any entitlement to benefits she may have. If you wish to contest the application for your house to be sold at auction you should see a solicitor. Whether you will be successful will largely depend on how long it has been on the market, as well as how co-operative you have been with the estate agent and any potential purchases/viewers.

Not worth the risk

Q3. I am selling my house and have already had an offer. Do I have to employ a solicitor? The prospective buyer is going to.

A3. It’s less complicated (and therefore cheaper) to sell a house than to buy one, especially if the property is already registered at the Land Registry. Also, if at least one of the parties to the house sale is employing a solicitor the transaction is unlikely to be a total shambles! However I wouldn’t recommend DIY conveyancing to anyone unless they have a particular bent for legal terminology. Legal fees for conveyancing are generally regarded as very reasonable: the main expenditure in selling a house is likely to be the estate agent’s fee. I should add that if you have a mortgage the lender will probably insist that you employ a solicitor.


Up against a brick wall

Q4. Our next door neighbour has put in a planning application to build an extension to the front of his property less than 4ft away from our front window. This will not only take light from our living room but block our view and reduce the value of our house.

A4. Normally extensions to the front of houses where they face a main road are not permitted. You may want to write in to the local planning authority, giving the reference number of the application and setting out your objections. This must be done within three weeks to ensure your views are considered. If for any reason your objections are overruled you should see a solicitor to see if the proposed building work can be stopped on other grounds, such as interference with a right to light or breach of a building line.


Price of freedom

Q5. The person who owns the ground rent for my house wants to sell me the freehold. Can you tell me the difference between freehold and leasehold property?

A5. Freeholders own their property outright whilst leaseholders do not. They “lease” the property for a fixed number of years, during which period they pay ground rent to the landowner and must observe the terms of the lease. You will have been given a copy of your lease when you bought your house. Freeholders don’t pay ground rent. It’s now possible in many cases to force landowners to extend leases when they run out, or even force them to sell the freehold. If you’re thinking of buying it will pay you to see a solicitor.

How we can help

Should you need expert legal advice regarding any of the above or indeed any other property law matters, please contact Paul Westwell at or telephone 0161 330 6821.

Alternatively, you are welcome to attend any of our free legal surgeries. Please click here for dates and times – No appointment necessary.