Land charges are legal obligations associated with a specific piece of property in the United Kingdom. They may be put in place by a local authority or the national government and can include anything from maintaining a public right of way to only being allowed to build certain kinds of structures. They are attached to the land, not the owner, and pass through successive changes of ownership intact. Property buyers in the United Kingdom must perform a search for land charges to check for any hidden surprises that may come with a new piece of property.
The land charges are not attached to the deed, which means that a simple title search to confirm that the deed is valid and check for any clouds on the title is not sufficient. It is necessary to contact a research firm and ask them to conduct an investigation into any restrictions associated with the property. Buyers can also do this search on their own if they are comfortable with navigating government records and confident that they can identify all relevant land charges.
A variety of restrictions can be placed on land use. The government may create a right of way or public access that the owner must respect and preserve. If buildings or plants are historic, they can be protected as well. A property owner might not be able to cut down a protected tree, for instance. Land charges can also concern what kind of development is permissible. This can be important for developers who may want to purchase a swath of land and could run into problems with obligations and use restrictions.
Agencies charge a fee for doing a land charge search. The amount of the fee can vary, and buyers can discuss it with their representatives to determine what the fee covers. Performing a search before buying is critical, as it might uncover something that could present a serious obstacle to the sale. Homeowners may not be comfortable with a public right of way, for instance, or might not be able to develop a property in the way they want to if the charges are restrictive.
New land charges can be applied at any time, usually through a hearing process where authorities will meet to discuss the land and the need, and issue an appropriate ruling. Property owners have an opportunity to weigh in with their comments at this stage and may protest land charges or request changes to them to make them more workable. It is important to be aware that when charges concern a custom, it can be harder to oppose them. If a farmer has always allowed people to walk on his land, for instance, his opposition to formalizing that arrangement with a permanent restriction may not be well received.