Between 1933 and 1970, Capt. W. E. Johns published nearly 100 novels featuring the adventures of flying ace, Biggles. From the first and second world wars to his adventures as a “flying detective” for Scotland Yard, Biggles met smugglers, spies, and murderers from the Amazon Rainforest to Cornish fishing villages.
The starting-off point for these far-flung adventures was “The Thatched Cottage”, Surrey, in which Johns wrote many of his earliest works. The Telegraph reported in 2017 that the title deeds for that cottage now obliges its inhabitant to keep a set of the adventure stories in the house at all times.
Many property deeds contain clauses, known as “restrictive covenants”. They can place restrictions on you, regulating what you can and cannot do in your own home, but your solicitor should be able to help you spot them.
Some clauses might force you to have a road sign attached to the side of your house, while others could be stranger, and more outdated. They might, for example, prohibit keeping poultry or operating a steam engine on your property, or dictate how you dry your clothes.
Here are some others to keep an eye out for.
1. Poultry, pigs, and pigeons
Many restrictive covenants might prevent you from keeping certain animals.
The numbers of people looking to keep pigs at their residential property might be low, but if you want to keep hens for fresh eggs, or you race pigeons, it’s important your solicitor checks for restrictions on these before you part with a deposit.
You might find you are limited to certain breeds. If you have a smallholding with sheep, for example, you might find – as Fingerprint’s Assistant Relationship Manager, Ivy, did – that you are unable to keep black-faced ewes. This could prevent you from keeping – among other breeds – Suffolk, Hampshire, Shropshire, Black Welsh Mountain, Clun Forest, and Valais Blacknose sheep.
2. Airing your dirty laundry
You might think hanging your washing out to dry on your property would be perfectly acceptable. This might not be the case if you live in Brighton and Hove.
Back in 2016, the Guardian reported that one Edwardian property in the area prevented inhabitants from displaying their washing in “a lewd and lascivious manner.”
3. Public rights of way
Just this month, the Andover Advertiser reported the fencing off of a footpath on which the landowner planned to erect beehives. Although not a designated footpath, his actions have angered locals who believe there is a “very strong case to be made for this footpath to remain in public usage.”
In 2010 the Yorkshire Post reported on the efforts of Colin Seymour to champion public access to bridleways, footpaths, and highways. Using historical research, Seymour once quoted from a Latin document dating from 1472.
Ensuring you have a solicitor to check for potential rights of way on your property could be crucial to avoiding drawn-out legal wrangling in the future.
4. Church repairs
Chancel repair liability could mean you are liable to make donations toward repairs required on a local church. The law dates back to the 1500s when Henry VIII sat on the English throne.
It applies to parish churches built before 1536 and, as well as costing you money for repairs, being tied into this ancient covenant could also devalue your property when you come to sell.
The BBC reported in 2014 on the case of a couple from Warwickshire who had inherited their home and then been forced to sell it. They had to pay £37,000 to their local 13th-century church who had invoked the chancel repair liability clause.
5. Keeping up appearances
You might want to put up a satellite dish, or security cameras, or even keep a motorhome or caravan on your drive. These might seem like innocuous amendments to your property’s outer appearance, but a restrictive covenant could force you to seek permission before you do so.
If you hope to use your home as business premises, to carry out “the profession or practice of a physician or surgeon or a learned or artistic profession,” Synsera Homes suggests that you might not have much say in the level of external advertising you can lawfully do.
A restrictive clause might limit your self-promotion to “a brass plate covering the space of not more than two feet by one foot.” This could make your business hard to find!
Get in touch
If you’re looking to buy a house, the value your solicitor adds could be immeasurable. Restrictive covenants can quickly turn your dream home into a nightmare and end up costing you much more than you would pay in solicitor’s fees.
Be wary of clauses hidden in your deeds before you opt to keep pigs, hang up your washing, or buy a house close to a church. And if you need a collection of Capt. W. E. Johns’ Biggles adventures, try England’s largest second-hand bookshop, Baggins Book Bazaar.
This article is for information only. Please do not act based on anything you might read in this article. All contents are based on our understanding of HMRC legislation which is subject to change.