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When your storage space gives you more than that for which you bargained

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There are two elusive words when looking for a residential dwelling in London – storage space. So what do you do when you find out your dream home has a vault attached to it? Well, you may think you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Historically, these vaults were used as coal cellars prior to the days of central heating but you may be surprised to hear that the vault may not actually form part of your dream home’s title. To make matters worse, there may be no record of this vault having being registered at the Land Registry.

This is an all too common situation which can create issues for buyers and lenders alike. The situation is dealt with by either one of two ways:

  1. Reliance on a common law doctrine known as “Ad Medium filum”; or
  2. A successful application based on adverse possession of the unregistered land triggering its registration in the name of the applicant.

Ad Medium filum is the presumption that the owners of land own the subsoil up to the middle of road. Of course, like with other rules, there are loopholes and the presumption is capable of being challenged but, in general, where a road is adopted by a local authority, the subsoil including any vaults and basements will be owned by the respective adjoining owners.

Some lenders however are not prepared to “take a view” and so an application based on adverse possession of the unregistered land can be made to the Land Registry. In order to be successful, the applicant needs to show for a period of 12 continuous and exclusive years prior to the date of the application:

  1. Factual possession of the land;
  2. The intention to possess the land; and
  3. Possession is without the owner’s consent

Whether by way of formal application or reliance on the medium filum doctrine, the situation can be regularised and so if ever this situation crops up, do not throw in the towel.

Please note, this article is intended as a general guide to a legal issue which can arise with basement vaults during a property purchase, and is not to be taken as detailed legal advice. Should you require assistance with any property matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Brecher property team who will be happy to help.

Mark Kingsley

Senior Associate

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