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The Legal Considerations when Buying a Property in the Countryside

The increased demand for rural properties amongst buyers keen on outdoor space and lower density living continues apace.  However buyers need to consider issues unique to rural properties before taking the plunge, says Boodle Hatfield, a leading private wealth law firm.

Potential buyers should bear in mind:

Listed buildings

Many prime rural properties are listed buildings, which come with greater restrictions that may limit a buyer’s ability to renovate or extend a property or to build within the grounds or gardens of the property.  Any intended modernisations need to be in line with regulations.

Public footpaths

Many rural homes have public or private rights of way running through the land or even through the garden.  Prospective buyers should find out if there are any foot paths, bridle paths or other rights of way which could affect the buyer’s privacy or enjoyment of the property.

Sporting rights access to the property

There may be sporting rights that give others access to use land for sporting activities, including fishing, shooting and hunting. It may not be possible to terminate these rights. House-hunters looking to acquire rural properties would be wise to check if any sporting rights exist on the land that benefit others rather than the land owners.

Boundary issues

Many country homes, particularly those with a large acreage, may have undergone boundary changes over the years.  Buyers will want to establish the boundaries of a property (together with any maintenance obligations), to avoid disputes or disagreements with neighbours.

Access to the property

Buyers should ensure that the property has access directly from a publically maintained highway, or otherwise private rights of access exist.  Buyers do not want to find themselves in a position where their property is (from a legal point of view) land-locked.   Adequate rights of access need to be ascertained and, if the accessway is privately owned by a third party, there may be obligations to contribute towards maintenance. 

Private drainage systems

Many properties in rural areas are not connected to mains drainage but are instead served by private systems such as septic tanks or cesspits.  New, little-publicised, environmental laws govern the use and discharge from private drainage systems.  Buyers need to be sure the property not only has suitable drainage rights, but also that systems are compliant with regulations. It can be expensive to bring systems into line with the current regulations.

Restrictive covenants limiting use of land

Covenants affecting the use of land are commonplace in the countryside, for example limiting extensions to existing buildings or building new properties.  Such covenants may require a substantial fee to be paid to release or vary them and buyers need to be aware of any covenants in light of their intended plans for the property.

Renting the land

If the property comes with land, some or all of it may be used by a local farmer or another third party.   It is important to establish at the outset what legal right the third party has to occupy the land as it is not always easy for a land owner to terminate rural tenancies.

Alice Bailey, an Associate at Boodle Hatfield dealing with rural sales and purchases says: “It’s not surprising that country properties remain so desirable with the continuing trend of remote working and the desire for more space still fuelling demand for country properties”.

“However, there are esoteric legal considerations to bear in mind before deciding to invest in rural property – considerations that don’t arise with urban properties.  Buyers will need to work closely with their solicitor to make sure they are aware of the issues affecting a particular property to ensure they can use it as they envisage.”