Conveyancing Searches and Chancel Repairs Liability

May 17, 2013

Many homebuyers find the perfect dream family property in the countryside or in a quiet leafy spot in town and are totally unaware that the location of their dream property might leave them wide open to a few additional expenses they were not expecting. And your local church is exactly where extra conveyancing fees and repair expenses you were not expecting might occur.

Maintaining church buildings is an expensive business, and it could well be that you will be in for more than a few coppers in the collection or a loose slate or two to fix if you live near a church. The aspiration to lead a quiet village life, cricket on the village green, some quaint but convenient local stores and the church spire rising up in the distance can soon result in an unexpected bill if you were unaware that your home came with a liability dating back to medieval times to pay for chancel repairs at the local church.

Chancel roof repairs can be written into a lease and it is this sort of covenant that your conveyancing solicitor should be able to point out before you exchange contracts. The chancel is the area of the church at the end of the aisle where the altar is located. In pre-Tudor times, church and chancel repairs were the liability of the parish rector, who derived an income from his church lands and also tithes from the locals and so had the means to pay for chancel repairs himself. His parishioners were charged for paying for repairs to the area of the church in which the congregation sat for services and worship.

When King Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, he distributed former Roman Catholic church lands to new landowners and liability for repairs to the local church within those lands passed to the new tenants. Many leases contain ancient covenants such as chancel repairs – and chancel lands occupy around 40% of land in England and Wales, so it is more than likely that if you buy a home on land with historical significance dating back to the reign of Henry VIII, your conveyancing local search will throw up a covenant regarding chancel repairs. Sometimes liability may not actually be enshrined in any deed, as the distribution of church lands when the Church of England split from Rome was not always well documented.

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There are, however, more than 5,000 chancels in England & Wales with liability for repairs by local tenants attached. Your conveyancer should be able to find out whether the property you wish to buy has any liability by searching through the National Archives, which has deeds and records dating back centuries. However, this may well increase the conveyancing fees you have to pay. If you buy a house in a road or lane with an ecclesiastical ring to it for example, words like vicarage, glebe, church or rectory – it is more than likely you may inherit some liability for paying for chancel repairs at the local church. If a conveyancing search does reveal an ancient liability for expenses such as chancel repairs, ask your conveyancer about the possibility of insuring against this expense.Some firms of property lawyers can arrange special insurance policies such as Chancel Repair Liability insurance – ask how much paying a one-off fee for this would cost. It is also important to establish whether the property you wish to buy has shared liability – or sole liability for chancery repairs. A property with sole liability or liability within a very small community might suddenly be hit with a large bill if the chancery is damaged or has not been maintained or repaired for many years and suddenly needs emergency repairs.

A scaffold can cost in the region of £1,000 to erect and the longer it is in place the more it costs, so checking the condition of the local church before you buy your home might also be a wise move.

The issue of homeowners inheriting liability for chancel repairs is currently being addressed. Currently Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) have until 13 October to register their right to claim chancel repair costs from local properties with liability. Registration of a local church’s right to claim repair money from local properties has been ongoing since 13 October 2003, when the then government made a Transitional Provisions Order requiring PCCs to register their interest.

Some may fail to do this – however, the Church of England is forever battling repair costs for its churches, and it is likely that not only will the PCCs successfully register their interest at the Land Registry relating to properties in their parish affected by chancel repair liability; but many homeowners who were previously unaware they had liability for chancel repairs may find themselves facing a large bill for repairs in the future.

In certain areas where new housing is being built or has been built, communities may have expanded to the point where their homes are within the catchment area for chancel repairs liability. In some areas of London and the Midlands (Fulham in south London and Warwickshire, for example) this has happened and caught some homeowners unawares. Make sure your conveyancer carries out the necessary search regarding chancel repair liability – and you will never get caught out by a leaking church roof again.

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Category: Conveyancing Guide

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