Are you responsible for the costs of repair the roof on your local church?
You just might be even if you are not aware of it due to ancient laws governing what is known as ‘chancel repair liability’. Chancel repair liability specifically relates to the chancel which is the part of the church containing the altar.
This little-known legal snare can be a nasty surprise for property owners that are unaware of it. As you can imagine, repairs to ancient buildings such as churches do not come cheap and property haunted by chancel repair liabilities can take a significant hit in value.
What is Chancel Repair Liability?
Chancel repair liability is a legal obligation that can be used by church councils in certain parishes to force property owners to assist financially with repairs to the local church.
The law originally arose in medieval times around the rule of Henry VIII but it continues to affect properties in numerous parishes to this day.
The practice of demanding ordinary homeowners to contribute to church repairs is uncommon but it attracted significant attention in 2009 when Andrew and Gail Wallbank lost their long legal battle over an obligation of around £100,000 in respect of a Church in Aston Cutlow, Warwickshire. The couple were eventually forced to sell their own property having run up £250,000 in legal fees fighting the parish.
How Do You Know if You Are Liable for Chancel Repairs?
Following the Wallbank case, it became common practice for property buyers to carry out searches for chancel repair liability. However, the liability does not always show up in title deeds so insurance is typically be taken out where there is a risk of it arising.
Unfortunately, a known risk of chancel repair liability can depress property prices in an area but the only way to remove it is to either prove it is incorrect. which can be particularly difficult, or persuade the parochial church council to withdraw it.
Under the Land Registration Act 2002 parish councils were obliged to register chancel repair liability before 13 October 2013 in order to protect it as an overriding interest. However, there may be some circumstance where it is enforceable even where it remains unregistered.
What Should I do if I Own or Would Like to Purchase Property Subject to Chancel Repair Liability?
Where chancel repair liability is confirmed by registration or by reference to it in title deeds, it is advisable that insurance is taken out to protect property owners against the risk of a demand for payment being made. In this case insurance can be costly as it will be a known risk. The value of the property is therefore likely to be affected. For property buyers, an adjustment to the purchase price can be negotiated to compensate.
If chancel repair liability is not a known risk, insurance can be a relatively cheap way for owners and buyers to buy peace of mind.