Ransom strips needn’t develop into a legal headache
The idea of someone owning a small piece of land and thereby holding a large property development to ransom will most likely strike fear into the heads and hearts of property developers. However, despite their intimidating name, ‘ransom strips’ need not be the problem they are deemed to be by many.
What are ransom strips?
Defined as a small piece of land that has been retained when a larger piece of land has been sold, the ransom strip usually sits on the boundary of the sold land, typically between the public highway and the plot of land itself. To access the development site, those wishing to use the property must have a right of way across the ransom strip which is where problems can arise, either by accident or design.
The most obvious complication is that of a potential trespassing charge every time the strip is crossed without the necessary permission from the strip’s owner.
What are the parameters of ransom strips?
The first step for landowners is to examine the boundary lines of the supposed ransom strip, ensuring they have been accurately drawn out, so the determination is correct.
If the plans are described as being for identification purposes only then the description of land will prevail. However, if this description is deemed to be inadequate, the courts may consider the plan on its own merits to determine the intentions of the involved parties.
In some cases, the courts have ruled a ransom strip has been inadvertently created due to boundary errors, and this will be taken into account as they acknowledge the seller did not purposely reserve the strip. However, the courts may decide to review the details contained in the original deed to establish the appropriate boundary lines, especially if any intention is not yet clear.
Ransom strips do not need to be large and can be less than a metre wide, yet still cause a significant problem for a developer and offer potentially large profits for the owner of the strip. There have been previous cases where the Court of Appeal has ruled that the dimensions entered onto a plan were not as accurate as a line on a plan, so think whether actual dimensions are accurate enough, as these conflicts may need to be resolved with external evidence.
If a plan has been based on an Ordnance Survey (OS) map, then these map rules will usually take precedent over any other applied presumptions.
Available options worth exploring
Before paying for rights of way, developers should explore other potential avenues to achieve the desired outcome amicably. An ad medium filum rule is one such option, which assumes the boundary of land abutting a roadway extends up to the half-way point of the road. When this rule is successfully applied, it prevents developers from having to pay for the necessary rights.
The ‘hedge to hedge’ presumption must also be considered when it comes to the roadways, which presumes a highway extends to the whole width of the space between fences on either side.
Council actions should also be taken into account, as the gap between the highway could also be a grass verge, and the council may determine it is part of the highway. If the council is actively
maintaining the grass verge, then there is a good chance that the suspected ransom strip could be part of the public highway.
Seek expert legal advice
It is easy to understand why homeowners and property developers view ransom strips as potentially serious legal headaches, but in reality, they are not always the deal-breaking problem that they might first appear to be.
Typically, when a landowner sells land, they will seek to retain a small piece in the hope that it later becomes a ransom strip, possibly preventing the developer complete access to the development site. Some landowners are prepared to wait years for a profit to be realised.
But there are many ways for developers to resolve the issue, so instead of letting the issue escalate into something expensive, developers should consult a team of experienced commercial real estate lawyers for advice on how best to navigate the issue.
For more information or advice, please contact our own specialist on ransom strips, joint founder of Newmanor Law, Karen Mason on 0207 464 4081 or email firstname.lastname@example.org