While location is undoubtedly a crucial factor when purchasing a property in prime central London, it is important to note that the legal frameworks implemented in these areas often contribute significantly to their appeal.
In this article, we aim to address several common questions that arise when individuals seek to purchase properties on London estates.
Do I have access to the local garden square?
Properties with limited or no outside space that have access to picturesque, gated garden squares are some of the most sought-after addresses in prime central London.
Whether or not you are entitled to access these private garden squares is not always clear cut and if you are purchasing a property which you believe has access to one of these squares, it is important to check with your solicitor.
Access to these gardens may be governed in any of the following ways, most of which will include payment of an annual fee:
- A statutory right of access: For example, many properties in Kensington have a separate payment in their Council Tax Bill towards the maintenance of a garden square under the Kensington Improvement Act 1851). This will typically only apply to properties facing the square in question.
- Private ownership: Some gardens are now in private ownership as a result of residents clubbing together to purchase them from various London Estates. If that is the case, your solicitor should check that a share of the ownership can be transferred to you on completion of your purchase (or there may be an opportunity for you to 'buy in' if your seller has not).
- Garden committees: In order to obtain a key to the garden, there may be a requirement to apply to a garden committee set up to manage maintenance and access to the garden. Some garden committees will allow other people access to the garden on a discretionary basis for an annual fee etc (i.e., if you have a property on a road nearby, but not necessarily on the square in question).
How do Estate Management Schemes work?
Some parts of London are covered by Estate Management Schemes, which were put in place to allow Landlords of estates to retain control over enfranchised properties (i.e., where the freehold has been sold to leaseholders). The main purpose of these schemes is to maintain the character and appearance of an area. Well-known areas including the Grosvenor Estate (Belgravia and Mayfair), The South Kensington Estate and Hampstead Garden Suburb are covered by Estate Management Schemes and each have retained their own distinctive architectural features and character.
People often assume they will have the freedom to do what they like with freehold properties, but the obligations and restrictions attached to properties governed by Estate Management Schemes can be similar to those found in leases of flats. They typically include a range of provisions from obligations to repair, maintain and insure your property, requirements to obtain consent from the Landlord before carrying out alterations (particularly external alterations) or works to trees, as well as restrictions on keeping poultry or hanging your washing outside.
Schemes come with an annual maintenance charge, which typically cost a few hundred pounds, to cover the overheads of managing the Scheme and you will also need to pay fees connected with obtaining consents (including your own legal and surveyor's costs as well as those of the Landlord). Some mews properties also have an additional annual 'Mews Charge' to cover the cost of maintenance of the mews road surface and the cost of lighting etc.
These Schemes are strictly regulated and breaches, particularly around failing to obtain consent for alterations, may well be enforced. Costs for enforcement of breaches will typically be borne by the property owner, making this an expensive process. In addition, if you have already carried out alterations, you may be required to reinstate the Property which will be expensive and disruptive.
How do I know if my property is governed by an Estate Management Scheme?
These schemes are registered in the local land charge register which means they will bind your property even if they do not appear on the title for the Property. Whether or not your property is covered by an Estate Management Scheme will be revealed in the Local Authority Search carried out during the purchase process. If you are unsure whether or not your property is affected, you should check with the Local Authority or your solicitor.
What should I be aware of if I am selling my property?
You should check that any Estate Management Scheme annual payments, Mews charges or payments for use of a garden square are paid and keep copies of any invoices or payment receipts to provide to your buyers.
You should ensure that any works you have carried out to the Property have the proper consents. If they do not, speak to your solicitor in the first instance.
What should I be aware of if I am buying a property governed by an Estate Management Scheme?
You should ensure that you are aware of and understand the restrictions and obligations contained in the relevant Estate Management Scheme and consider whether this will impact plans you may have for the property. Consents required under an Estate Management Scheme will be in addition to any planning or listed building consents that may be necessary.
Although it can be restrictive, an Estate Management Scheme will help to preserve the character and amenity of an attractive neighbourhood for years to come.