Why do I have to pay an annual rent charge?

Our lawyer Fiona McNulty answers your questions
Question: My son has just bought a house near Manchester. His solicitor told him that it is subject to an annual payment of £2.50 which he says is a rent charge but there is no record of any request for payment being received by the people he's buying it from. It isn't a lot of money but my son thought he was buying a freehold property. Why a rent charge? And should he be worried?

Answer: Rent charge is a cross between a mortgage and a lease and most were imposed towards the end of the 19th century. They are common in the Manchester and Bristol areas. They involve a yearly payment out of freehold land and because the amounts are often relatively small, the cost of collection frequently exceeds the value of the payment. As a result, it is not unusual for the identity of the rent charge owner to be unknown and for the rent not to be collected.

You can reassure your son that the property is freehold and he may be able to redeem the charge through the Government Office of the North West, under the provisions of the Rent Charge Act 1977. If the rent charge is not registered at the Land Registry, evidence of nonpayment for over 12 years will support an application to the Registry for the rent charge to be cancelled. In the meantime, your son could be liable for any arrears — although the maximum period which can be claimed for is six years. His solicitor should require the seller to provide your son with an allowance of £15 on completion to cover this.

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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email legalsolutions@standard.co.uk. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

Fiona is a partner in the residential real estate team at Thring LLP (www.thrings.com).

These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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