March 11, 2014 3:58 pm

House Rules: property fraud and noisy neighbours

The latest in UK property law: a new fraud protection service and what to do about noisy neighbours
Illustration by James Ferguson depicting property law©James Ferguson

1. Nip property fraud in the bud

I’ve heard about a new fraud protection service from the Land Registry. What is it? The Land Registry for England and Wales has just launched its Property Alert service, to help people spot property fraud. You can monitor up to three properties and if anyone makes an application to change the register (for example, to change the name of the owner) you’ll be notified by email. If anyone is about to buy or lend money on a property, they will usually make an “official search” against it and the new service will warn you about this too.

Do I have to own a property to monitor it? No, so it will be useful for people with elderly relatives who are in residential care but still own their own home. These properties are especially vulnerable to fraud, along with property that is mortgage-free or vacant.

Does it cost anything? It is a free service, which forms part of the Land Registry’s anti-fraud strategy. For more details, go to landregistry.gov.uk/public/property-alert.

2. Disturbing the peace

I’ve recently moved house and am being disturbed by noise from a nearby motor racing track. Is there anything I can do? Possibly. The Supreme Court has recently upheld a complaint by residents near a noisy motor sports complex in Suffolk. This could be good news for others in a similar situation, although the courts will look hard at the circumstances of each particular case. You would have to start by showing that the noise was causing a nuisance.

It’s certainly annoying – is that good enough? Not quite. From a legal perspective, something has to be more than irritating before you can bring a claim for nuisance. It must actually cause damage or interfere with your enjoyment of your property. It depends just how noisy the track is.

Does it matter that the racetrack was there before I moved in? It might. If the noise has been bad enough to cause a nuisance for 20 years, the track owners may have established a right to be that noisy. The track owners might also argue that the noise is just part of the character of the area. This is why the court will focus on the specific circumstances of any complaint.

If I can show that there is a nuisance, can I stop the motor racing altogether? The court will try to balance your rights as an individual against the rights of the track owners to run a legitimate business, for which the local authority has given planning permission. Following the recent Supreme Court decision, you are more likely to get damages than to stop an established business, although you might also get an injunction to restrict noise levels in future.

What advice would you give someone thinking of moving close to a noisy business? Do your research. Find out as much as possible about the actual impact on residents. Noise isn’t the only possible problem – you could be affected by things like dust or unpleasant smells. Above all, don’t rely on being able to go to court to stop the problem. The law is not certain and the outcome will depend on the judge’s view of the whole picture in each case.

3. Get your rights right

I’ve bought a building plot. I have a right of way over a piece of land leading to my site from the road. Can I dig it up to lay utility services? Look first at exactly what the right you have been granted says. Rights over other people’s land (often referred to as easements) are usually interpreted quite strictly, and the starting point is that they only allow you to do those things which are expressly mentioned.

My right doesn’t mention laying services at all. Do I have a problem? Possibly, although you may be safe if you can show that you and the seller both intended that you would be able to connect to services from your building plot. A court recently looked at a case like this, and agreed that the buyer of the building plot had an implied right to lay services under an access way because the judge was convinced that is what the parties must have intended. The buyer in that case was lucky and it is always better to spell out everything you need when you are being granted a right.

Angus Evers is a partner in the Planning and Environment team at King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin

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