Common Land Law Terms

Adverse possession

Occupation of land inconsistent with the rights of the owner, without the permission of the owner.

Where one person is in possession of property under any title, and another person claims to be the rightful owner of the property under a different title, the possession of the former is said to be an “adverse possession” with reference to the latter.

A rightful owner neglecting to assert their claim within a given period is barred of the right to do so.

Caveat

A caveat is a notice of a claim which may or may not be a valid claim.

The usual purpose of a caveat is to warn all persons who might deal on the faith of the land register, and also the owner or registered proprietor of the land, that the person who has lodged the caveat – the caveator – claims an interest which is not shown on the land register.

Certificate of title

The document which every owner of freehold land under the Transfer of Land Act 1893 is entitled to in the prescribed form.

Covenant

An agreement which binds a person to do or not to do a specified thing, or by which a person undertakes that a certain state of affairs exists.

Covenants that run with the land are agreements which successive owners of or lessees of the same land are entitled to the benefit of or responsible for the obligation under.

The legal rights and obligations contained in a lease are the best known example of covenants that run with the land. A covenant by a lessee or tenant to maintain the leased premises in a good state of repair and maintenance for example, will “run with the land” so as to usually bind any person who the lessee assigns the lease to.

Easements

The right of the owner of one piece of land (the dominant tenement) to a benefit from other land (the servient tenement).

An easement is a limited interest that an owner of land acquires over land belonging to someone else. It is a non-possessory right which entitles landowner A to exercise certain rights over landowner B’s land in addition to the rights A already enjoys over their own land.

The best known example of an easement is a right of way, by which A is allowed to walk or drive a vehicle across B’s land to get to A’s land. The benefit of the easement attaches to A’s land, which is know as “the dominant tenement”, and is exercisable over B’s land, being “the servient tenement”.

The easement thus restricts the servient owner B in the full enjoyment of their land.

An easement is proprietary in nature; once it has been validly created it can be enforced by the dominant owner against the rest of the world.

Estate

The character and duration of a person’s ownership of land.

For example, a freehold estate such as an estate in fee simple or a life estate, a leasehold estate of a lease for a number of years, a periodic tenancy, a tenancy at will or a tenancy at sufferance.

Other common forms of ownership of land are by concurrent estates such as a joint tenant or as a tenant in common.

Land can also be owned under a variety of equitable estates.

Joint tenancy

When land is owned by two or more people as joint tenants the ownership of each owner is concurrent or indistinguishable from that of the other owner/s. Compare land that is owned as tenants in common.

The principle feature of this type of ownership is that on the death of one of the owners their share accrues to other owner/s under the law of survivorship.

Most married couples own land in this way, so that on the death of one spouse the share of the deceased spouse goes to surviving spouse, by virtue of their surviving the deceased spouse.

Options

The term “option” refers to the purchase of certain property or not within a certain time.

The right is used on the Stock Exchange to express a right to take or sell stock on a future day.

An option of purchase in a lease for example, is the right given to the lessee (or tenant) to purchase, during the term, the reversion or the lessor’s or landlord’s interest in a parcel of land, which has not been disposed of by grant of the lease of the premises or land to lessee or tenant).

Tenants in common

Owners who hold the same land under a tenancy in common, and are entitled to separate certificates of title.

In this form of land ownership each person owns a discrete portion of the land, and can therefore on their death bequeath to their heirs their share of the land. This contrasts with land that is owned as a joint tenancy, where the surviving owner receives the deceased owners interest in the land under the law of survivorship and no discrete portion of the land is owned separately.

The portion of the land that each tenant in common owns is expressed as being a number of shares over 100 total shares.

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