By Philippa Rudd, a principal at Cozens-Hardy solicitors in Norwich
My wife and I are house hunting and we have seen a lovely house in a sought after area. However, my wife is very worried that once we have moved in one of the neighbours might change their property into something such as a ‘halfway house’ for ex convicts. How can I reassure her that this is very unlikely to happen? She told me that this scenario happened in a ‘soap’ recently and it had a terrible impact on the residents; clearly if this did happen to us we would be unable to sell our house.
You could ask your solicitor to carry out a ‘Plan Search’ as part of the title investigation process. This would reveal any pending applications for change of use near the property you are buying. However, this search will not reveal future applications for change of use.
So how would we find out what could happen in the future?
You could ask the council for details of their proposals for the area. Some of that information will be shown in the local search result. Also, if the property
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is in a Conservation Area, controls on development are much tighter, likewise if the properties are Listed. You should also ask the sellers to confirm in writing that they have not been notified of any proposals for development or change of use in the area. They must not withhold that information from you.
If we move in and something like this does subsequently materialise, what could we do?
You could look at the title deeds for the property in question. The deeds may prohibit any use other than as a single private dwelling – the benefit of such a covenant is with you as the neighbouring owners, so you could seek to enforce the covenant by an injunction, if necessary. Also, the neighbours owe you a duty of care not to cause you a nuisance or annoyance and if there were ongoing problems you could have remedies against them. It is impossible for your solicitor to guarantee that such a development won’t happen in the future, but by carrying out as many searches and enquiries as possible hopefully you and your wife will be reassured.
Philippa is on 01603 625231