Getting onto the property ladder can be a dream come true. Unfortunately, it can turn into a nightmare if property disputes get out of hand. The good news is that many disputes can be avoided by planning. Most of the rest can be solved fairly painlessly with the right approach. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know.
Make sure that there’s clarity on property ownership
A lot of property disputes boil down to disagreements about who owns what. It’s therefore advisable to get absolute clarity on this before you complete a purchase. Here are three major points you should check.
Who is going to own the property and how?
If you’re buying a property on your own, then you will be the sole proprietor. If you are buying it with someone else, then you will either be joint tenants or tenants in common. If you are joint tenants, then you automatically inherit the property if the other person dies (and vice versa). If, however, you are tenants in common than your share in the property goes into your estate.
Additionally, there are three ways you can own property. These are leasehold, freehold and share of freehold. Each of these ownership models confers different rights and responsibilities. It’s vital that you clearly understand both before you make a final decision about whether or not you want to commit to a purchase.
What is the extent of the property?
In simple terms, you (or your conveyancer) should make sure that the paperwork tallies with the seller’s description of the property. Be aware that the description may be implicit rather than explicit. For example, a seller may have access to a garden and treat it as communal. Legally, however, it may belong to another property.
Neighbours who are on good terms with each other may well have established “gentleperson’s agreements” about the use of land. These agreements, however, are only binding if they are put into a legally-acceptable format. If everyone really is happy with them, there should be no problem with this. If they’re not, you need to find out before you commit.
What’s included in the sale?
Similar comments apply here. A seller must declare which fixtures are included in the sale. It is, however, down to you to read their list and make sure that you’re happy with it.
Issues of access and upkeep
If you are clear on who owns what, then you basically have an answer to just about any question regarding upkeep and access. In general, the owner decides who gets access to their property. They also have the responsibility of maintaining it. There are, however, a couple of twists on this.
Firstly, if you need access to another person’s land for “preservation works” then you can get a court to order access to it under the terms of the 1992 Access to Neighbouring Land Act.
Secondly, if a neighbour’s property encroaches on yours, you can take reasonable steps to deal with it. For example, if a tree spreads its branches into your garden, you can cut them down. The branches, however, belong to your neighbour.