Check out the covenant

There can be more than planning permission to consider if you’re looking to build your own home or change the use of your property, says Stuart Harris, head of residential sales at Carter Jonas in Cambridge

Stuart Harris of Carter Jonas

There has been a lot of publicity surrounding the relaxation of planning regulations for householders contemplating building an extension to their property. But for a landowner or householder thinking about bringing a plot forward for development or changing the use of an existing building there may be other formal matters to consider too.

Restrictive covenants and covenant release are technical areas of property law.  Large development companies who operate commercially are well aware of the existence and importance of covenants. 

But private householders who want to sell or take on residential development themselves or those with buildings who want to change the use, won’t be as familiar with covenants as they are with the need for planning permission.

When it comes to development, many think it begins and ends with planning but the starting point can be a covenant.  Planning authorities are not obliged to consider these ahead of considering a planning application.

In many instances people embark upon the planning process only to discover the existence of a covenant restriction which limits a plots use for development or the type of use planned.

The existence of a covenant can work in favour of property owners who could benefit from an enforceable covenant for which they could agree a premium in exchange for permitting development on nearby land.

Covenants can be very restrictive and arcane and, in some cases, can be challenged with an application to the Lands Tribunal on, for example, the grounds that they are obsolete.

In practice, the majority of the cases can be successfully challenged and the covenants released through the process of negotiation and compensation. 

It is advisable for anybody considering development to check the covenant status at the outset as this can avoid a greater expense later.

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