Summary and implications
Manorial rights, the ancient and almost forgotten rights which can be possessed by owning a lordship of a manor, have been brought back into the minds of property owners by recent changes in the law.
The recent changes have meant that such rights now have to be protected by registration. Registration is intended to create transparency for potential purchasers. However, the short-term outcome has been to raise concerns amongst property owners. The first time many property owners become aware that a third party has made an application to protect right over their land is when they receive notice from the Land Registry.
This briefing provides some background information on manorial rights and considers what a landowner's options are if he receives a notice relating to manorial rights over his land.
The Land Registry notice will be the result of an application by a third party to secure manorial rights which the applicant may have against the property.
Manorial rights are historical relics − left-over historic rights which have not been capable of creation since 1925.
The term "manorial rights" covers a number of rights. However, the main ones are:
- the Lord's sporting rights (i.e. rights to hunt, shoot, fish etc.);
- the Lord's or the tenant's rights to mines or minerals;
- the Lord's right to hold markets or fairs; and
- the Lord's or the tenant's liability for construction, maintenance or repairs of dykes, ditches, canals and other works.
Prior to 13 October 2013, manorial rights were overriding interests. Any purchaser would acquire land subject to the rights even if they were not registered on the title. Post-13 October 2013, manorial rights remain binding against the owner of the land (even if they are not protected by notice on the register). However, a purchaser for valuable consideration would take free of the rights unless they are protected on the register.
The October deadline generated a large volume of last-minute applications. Many landed estates made thousands of applications, which the Land Registry is only just processing. Last month, it was reported that thousands of premises on Anglesey received letters from the Land Registry regarding the registration of the manorial rights on behalf of Lord Treffos.
The most common application being made to protect manorial rights is the registration of a unilateral notice against the title to burdened property.
The first time most landowners will be notified is when the Land Registry has completed the registration of a unilateral notice against the title to their property. The effect of a notice is very limited. The entry does not guarantee that the interest it protects is valid or even that it exists. The notice only assures the priority of the interest is protected.
A unilateral notice is entered without the consent of the landowner. The applicant is not required to satisfy the Land Registry that they have a valid claim and do not need to support their application with any evidence.
The registered proprietor can apply at any time to cancel the notice. The applicant will then be forced to prove the validity of their claim. The Land Registry will serve notice on the beneficiary, who will then have 15 days to object to the cancellation (by proving evidence of their claim).
The options available to a property owner who finds he has a unilateral notice to protect manorial rights registered against his property:
- Make no response − The only change is an overriding interest has now become registrable. The registration puts the property owner in no worse position than it was in prior to 13 October 2013. The issue with the unilateral notice is that it puts any potential purchaser or tenant on notice which may result in a high level of due diligence on the sale or letting of a property.
- Apply to cancel the notice − This would force the beneficiary to respond to the Land Registry within 15 days providing evidence of the validity of his claim. If the applicant is well organised, he may be ready and prepared to provide the proof in the short timescale. The applicants making these types of applications are usually fairly conservative in their approach to protecting rights and therefore may not take the normal commercial/pragmatic view but will seek to protect all rights notwithstanding their commercial value. Where an estate is held on trust, the duty on the trustees to preserve the trust assets is strict. The main concern for a landed estate is that it will lose title to mineral or sporting rights that may prove valuable in the future. This has become particularly relevant in the debate about fracking.
It is a commercial judgment for any landowner whether it is worth the costs of making the application to remove the notice. If you make an application to cancel the notice and the beneficiary can provide the required evidence, it will then have a proven right rather than the questionable entry.
As the Land Registry work through the backlog of applications, any landowner with a portfolio of properties should expect to receive a number of notices over the next few months. It is therefore worth spending the time now considering your general position across your portfolio.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.