Beware the pitfalls of Land Ownership

Land Ownership

We are often asked questions about land ownership. Can I apply for planning permission on someone else’s land? How do I find out who owns the land? Which certificate do I need to sign?

If you are considering a new development, or even just an extension to your own home, we always recommend looking into land ownership and get land registry records to inform your planning application.

It is relatively cheap and straightforward to get land registry records, but if you choose not to and discover in retrospect that you don’t own the land that you have built on, it can become a very costly and stressful ordeal. Click here to visit the Government website where you can download the documents. Fees are listed on the website.

This issue was highlighted in a recent story reported by Nottinghamshire Live about a family who became embroiled in a land dispute that has prevented them from selling their home due to a small space which doesn’t belong to them.

Land Ownership Case Study

In 2021 Linda Hoffman, 73, discovered that around 400 square meters of land situated in her property technically doesn’t belong to her.

Land ownership dispute
Bryn Hoffman pictured in the garden. Apparently everything to the right of the left wall isn’t their land. Image: Nottingham Post/Marie Wilson.

Linda and her husband bought some land from her neighbours in 2000, hoping to build their own property, which they eventually did by 2003, and they have been living in it ever since.

While the family knew the footpath didn’t belong to them, they received a shock when they discovered that a portion of the land also didn’t belong to them in March 2021.

Linda’s husband tragically passed away in April 2020. After this, she began searching for a bungalow closer to her son, Bryn. One came up just around the corner from his home, so they put her property on the market and found a buyer.

But as the conveyancing solicitors started going through the legal process to transfer ownership of the property to the new owners, it was discovered that a section of the land didn’t belong to Linda. Linda had no idea about the land and as her husband had sadly passed away, there was no one else to ask.

Linda said: “Thankfully I’m a strong person but it’s just draining. I was ringing the land registry every day for a month and every time I spoke to someone, I got a different story.”

The family are still struggling to find out who actually owns the land, with little to no answers. While they believe it could be owned by Nottinghamshire County Council, they are still waiting for answers over the ownership.

The family have estimated that market value for the piece of land disputed is £1,000. Bryn stated: “All this has been dragging on for nearly two years. My mum has spent a fortune on a solicitor”.

“She also made a cash offer to buy, just to give them some money for the land to get it done and I don’t think they even responded. Last Christmas we said there’s no way we will be here next year, but here we are.”

They had tried to apply for adverse possession, but recently found out that their application has been rejected. Upon receiving this news, the buyers who had been waiting to purchase the bungalow from Linda, sadly, but understandably, pulled out.

Bryn explained that the whole situation is “frustrating” and that his mum has lived in that house for two decades, and his dad was very well known and would open the house and garden up each year for the National Garden Scheme to raise money for charity.

He continued: “It’s just been shocking, and an abysmal experience. There’s no reason that this couldn’t have been resolved before this.”

A spokesperson for His Majesty’s Land Registry has since stated: “In 2021-22, we saw an extremely high level of property transactions as the property market bounced back after Covid-19 restrictions and stamp duty and land transaction tax holidays fuelled demand. HM Land Registry received around 1.8 million more service requests in 2021 than in 2019.”

“That increase did affect our processing times, including the time taken to initially consider Mrs Hoffman’s application. We have apologised to Mrs Hoffman previously and do not hesitate to repeat that apology.”

“HMLR cannot proceed with an application until it complies with the relevant statutory formalities. Unfortunately, the initial delays were exacerbated by defects in the applications originally lodged on behalf of Mrs Hoffman. These meant we had to cancel some of the applications and request replacements.”

They continued: “The replacement applications have since been submitted and considered by HMLR. Mrs Hoffman’s applications involve adverse possession, which is a highly technical area of law. Consequently, once the applications are in order, HMLR is bound by certain statutory timeframes.”

“We cannot deviate from these. We have also received an objection to one of the applications. When we receive such an objection, we cannot complete the application until the dispute has been resolved.”

The story above is not an unusual one, ownership in effect trumps planning permission.  We hope sharing this story will caution anyone considering a development, no matter how large or small.  Having ownership or appropriate agreement for the land you are developing is essential to avoid a potentially protracted and distressing situation like what Linda and her family have faced.

Related content

If you are considering building a new property, or extending your existing property, we would recommend you read our article about Ownership and the Planning Process. It clarifies some of the issues raised in this case study and highlights which certificate you should sign if applying when applying for planning permission to show ownership.

As the case study highlights, planning issues can become complicated. There are lots of things you can do yourself, but if you need professional help from a Town Planner, you might check out our article When To Hire a Town Planner and download a Guide on How to Choose a Town planner.

Take a look at an article we were asked to be involved with: Row over plans for new homes in Biddenham (