In a case which underlines the wisdom of seeking professional legal advice before entering into property transactions, a group of chalet-dwellers are facing a precarious future after the Court of Appeal ruled that they are 'mere licensees' who have no interest in the land on which their properties stand.
Many of those living in the chalets at Larbreck Gardens, Garstang Road, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, paid tens of thousands of pounds for their homes and have spent thousands more on improving them. But what many didn't do was seek solicitors’ advice before they bought their homes, with the unfortunate result that the 'informality' of transactions led to uncertainty in respect of what they had actually paid for.
Eleven of the chalet owners objected to having to pay site fees to one of the freehold owners of the land and to a ban on them living in the properties all the year round. They took their case to court, claiming to own not just the chalets themselves but also to have freehold or long leasehold interests in the soil beneath them.
Their case was struck out by a judge who rejected pleas that they had ‘somehow acquired’ legal interests in the land. The freeholders of the land were entitled to levy site fees and to dictate that the chalet owners had to quit their homes for six winter weeks each year.
On appeal, lawyers representing the chalet owners argued that, as substantial and permanent structures, the chalets were 'annexed' to the land. It was submitted that the chalets should be viewed as 'fixtures', rather than mere chattels, and that those who bought them had also acquired title to the land on which they stood.
However, refusing to grant permission to appeal, Lord Justice McCombe ruled that, in the absence of rent recors, conveyancing documents or any other evidence that they had title to the land, the chalet owners' arguments were ‘hopeless’ and their appeal could not possibly succeed.
The judge emphasised that his ruling does not mean that the chalet owners have no rights. However, they will be in a substantially weaker position than they would have been had they managed to establish freehold or leasehold interests in the land.