Local Land Charge Searches

November 20th, 2009  |  Published in Information

It is standard practice when buying a property in England and Wales to have your solicitor or conveyancer carry out what is commonly called a “Local Land Charges Search”, or simply a “search”.

This covers a multitude of questions and answers  that a potential purchaser of property might want to know before going ahead and contracting to buy.  With respect to public rights of way the question asked in the search is optional, so if you didn’t ask for it to be asked, and your solicitor or conveyancer didn’t ask  it then the question will not have been answered as part of the searches – so a right of way could exist over your property and since you and your advisers didn’t ask about it you will not have been told about it.  The other difficulty is that the search question asks if there are any rights of way crossing or abutting the property shown on the definitive map.   (See article on the definitive map for an explanation of what this is).

It follows therefore that if there is no definitive map for the area (and for why this may be see article on definitive map) your property is in, then the answer will be no.   The “no” answer is often interpreted as meaning there are no public rights of way crossing or abutting this property, but actually what it may simply mean is ‘no, there is no definitive map’.  Since the search question does not actually ask, “is there a public right of way across the property?”  but rather is there a public right of way shown on the definitive map it follows that  if there is a public right of way but it is not actually shown on the definitive map the answer to your search question will still have been “no”.

Just because a public right of way is not shown on the definitive map does not mean it does not legally exist.

Finally,  sometimes (but not very often)  the plan of the property provided with the search request is at too small a scale or inaccurate so that the council  has not properly identified the property and this can result in the wrong answer being given.  If you are buying property and are concerned that a  public right of way crosses or abuts it, you should  make sure that the optional question is asked.   You should check whether or not the definitive map covers the area where  the property is  and you should consult the register of definitive map modification applications and orders.   You should also consider carrying out some research, speaking to the council’s rights of way officers and formally asking the vendor.

Postscript:  Revised Con 29 and Con 29O forms came into effect on 4 July 2016; this is a welcome improvement on the previous situation and has come about following pressure from IPROW and others.  But the search process still has its limits.  The law in England and Wales is still caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) it remains up to the purchaser to satisfy themselves as to whether or not unrecorded public rights exist over the property they intend to purchase.  As advised above additional research may be necessary to cover this.

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