Manorial Rights: Taking the ground from under your feet?
Manorial rights date back to the feudal era which still grants landowners (formerly Lords of the Manor) powers over swathes of Britain, affecting everything from the holding of fairs and hunting to mineral extraction.
These anachronistic rights remain in place, even when parcels of land are sold off as freehold. With it comes the very real risk to thousands of homeowners of property values plummeting after a deluge of applications by “lords of the manor” to register ancient rights over their land in the last couple of years.
In a recent report, the Commons’ All-Party Justice Select Committee called on the Government’s legal advisers to review the operation of manorial rights. The report said there were fears homeowners could be saddled with significant legal fees over disputed manorial claims, which could also delay property sales, and potentially affect house prices.
The growing uncertainty
It disclosed Ministry of Justice figures which showed 84,000 manorial rights notices were registered between December 2012 and July 2014. Only 3,200 notices had been registered in the previous decade, and the surge was due to holders of manorial rights rushing to meet an autumn 2013 deadline set by the then Labour government’s 2002 Land Registration Act, which attempted to reform manorial claims.
However, the Justice Department has indicated in papers to MPs that: “New applications affecting other properties may continue to be made for the foreseeable future.” The report did not estimate how many claims could still be made, but it noted that the Land Registry has records of a further 116,500 manorial rights claims on title deeds.
The lack of understanding of such rights, and the way the registration process was carried out and communicated, has led to understandable concerns and anxieties by homeowners considering selling in the future, or from purchasers concerned over whether the rights would be exercised in the future.
Claims landing on the doormat
A person claiming manorial rights does not have to prove their application to the Land Registry.
The first thing most homeowners learn about the legal influence over their property is when the Land Registry sends them a letter telling them a claim has been lodged on their deeds.
Thousands of homeowners from Anglesey to Hertfordshire received official letters last year telling them that powers held in their local areas by a Lord of the Manor, including the right to extract material from beneath their houses, were being asserted for the first time.
In Welwyn Garden City in October 2013, around 500 households in the Handside area received notices from the Land Registry informing them that Lord Salisbury had registered claims to manorial rights over their properties. The fear that this was related to exploration for fracking proved unfounded but caused understandable concern and paralysis in the local property market.
Lord of the manor titles can be bought and sold, and some are held by charitable and educational institutions. Manorial rights rarely bring with them physical property yet often still include powers over land owned or occupied by others. The rights can include access for sports such as shooting and fishing, the right to holds fairs or markets and the power to demand fees for maintenance of dykes or ditches.
Some of these rights, such as mineral extraction from a quarry site, remain valid and lucrative; the Church of England’s manorial mineral rights extend over 300,000 acres of land and generate “substantial” income. However, in the all party review, MPs said others such as the assertion of shooting rights in once rural land now occupied by urban housing estates are aberrations which may no longer have “practical significance”.
The House of Commons Justice Committee is asking for the Law Commission, the body which scrutinises existing legislation, to assess whether the law should now be changed to compensate Lords of the Manor and remove entitlements dating back to the Anglo-Saxons.
In the meantime, the presence of manorial rights or a dispute about their claim in an area could have a significant impact in the ability to sell a property and present a financial risk should you purchase without prior knowledge.
For more information on Manorial Rights and where you stand, contact Shelley or Teresa in our conveyancing team on 01727 861414