Rights to make use of other people's land – known as easements – often do not appear on title deeds and, for that reason, can easily catch property buyers unawares. In a case on point, a vicar asserted his own and others' right to use a couple's drive as an access route to a rural church.

The couple bought their home, which was formerly the church school, in 2015. The property had been sold off to the couple's predecessors by the village's then vicar and churchwardens in 2012. The property's title deeds made no reference to the unregistered easement and its existence would not have been apparent to the couple on reasonably careful inspection.

The current vicar argued that there was an established easement that permitted him and others to make vehicular use of the couple's drive for church purposes. Clergy, undertakers and families placing flowers on graves were, amongst others, said to have used the drive for more than 20 years prior to the 2012 sale. Despite the couple's objections, the vicar's arguments prevailed before the First-tier Tribunal (FTT), which directed that the easement be formally registered.

Dismissing the couple's challenge to that outcome, the Upper Tribunal rejected an argument that the drive's occasional use for church purposes over the years was insufficient to give rise to an easement. The FTT was entitled to find that the drive's use in connection with the church, whilst never frequent, was a matter of routine during the relevant period. The easement having been established before they bought their home, the couple's appeal was doomed to fail.

To avoid falling victim to circumstances such as these, it is vital to seek expert legal advice when purchasing a property – contact Adam Oleskow a.oleskow@sydneymitchell.co.uk on conveyancing and house purchase matters.

In the case of property disputes, contact Sundeep Bilkhu s.bilkhu@sydneymitchell.co.uk .

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