PROPERTY rights invariably have a value. This is normally a financial value, and often a considerable value, but it can also have a nuisance value and disrupt future plans for the farm.

Giving away a right of access is a classic example. If members of the public regularly use a route across private land it is possible to claim right of way, if they can prove uninterrupted use for at least 20 years. That does mean the landowner has 20 years to stop the access or to ensure it is recognised as permissive.

This type of claim will often arise around a village and the creation of such a right may well have a significant impact on future development opportunities and value.

Landowners can protect their entire holding from such claims by submitting a Section 31 Deposit under the Highways Act 1980 to their local council. The submission will consist of a map of the property, showing all existing rights of way, along with a statement to the effect that the owner’s intention is not to create any further public rights of way. There is a cost attached to this process, but it remains valid for 20 years.

Another common occurrence is the accidental gift of the right of occupation under a business tenancy. This can arise from an informal arrangement where somebody asks the owner for the use of a building, perhaps to store tools. The occupier then locks the building to protect the contents from theft. However, if the owner agrees and continues to accept rent, the occupier has exclusive possession.

The occupier could then claim security of tenure under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 and removing them becomes very difficult. Not only can this impact future, more profitable, use of the building, but it may also mean that agricultural property relief from inheritance tax no longer applies.

In the most extreme example, the right of ownership can be lost via ‘adverse possession’, or ‘squatter’s rights’, if somebody takes possession of unregistered land unchallenged for at least 12 years.

Unusual in the case of whole fields, a bit of ‘garden creep’ on the village edge is much more common. The easiest way to protect land from being lost without notice is to ensure it is correctly logged with the Land Registry.