Chancel repair costs when Conveyancing in Sunderland

Will a house in Sunderland be liable to pay when the local church needs repairing?

Although house-buyers in Sunderland expect their Conveyancing Solicitors to carry out usual property searches, they will frequently be puzzled when told that it is necessary to carry out a ‘chancel search. ’ These searches are carried out to ascertain if there is any possibility of the property carrying a liability to contribute to the cost of repairs to the local church.

Most Sunderland buyers would assume that having to contribute to repairing a church is something that might have applied in the middle ages, but would have been abolished centuries ago. In fact, most Property Lawyers thought the same, although some were aware that the owners of a few houses could still be liable. However, some years ago the problem surfaced when a church which needed extensive repairs discovered that the owner of a nearby house could be liable to pay a large proportion of the repair costs. The owner of the house contested this in a highly publicised case, where the courts eventually decided that the house was subject to a liability for chancel repairs. As the eventual cost of the case ran into millions of pounds it was an expensive exercise for the owner of the house.

Since that case was decided Conveyancing Solicitors regularly carry out ‘chancel check’ searches to find out if there is any possibility of a property being potentially liable for chancel repairs. This is the result of such a search carried out for a house on Kedleston Close, Sunderland, SR2:

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“The above building is located within the historical boundary of a tithe district within a parish which continues to have a potential chancel repair liability based upon historical parish boundary data and the relevant Inland Revenue Indices held by the National Archive. ”

This probably means that the church building of the Church of England parish in which the house is situated dates back to medieval times, but in fact very few houses in Sunderland or elsewhere are actually liable for this charge. It is not sufficient that there is an old parish church in the vicinity, and the way in which land becomes liable means that the chance of a house actually being liable is remote. Very rarely the registered title of a property will contain a note that there is a liability, in which case a buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitor will be very wary.

Where a search shows a potential liability, as in the above case, the buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitor will usually suggest that an indemnity policy is taken out which would cover any charges should they arise. Since this is usually a remote risk, the premiums charged by the insurers are normally modest, and do provide re-assurance to buyers who might be worried about receiving a hefty repair bill from the local vicar.

Thankfully, the Government has made an order which effectively means that all chancel repair obligations will cease on the 13th October 2013 unless any Church has noted their interest in any particular property or land with the land registry before this date. Until that time Sunderland Property Lawyers will continue to make these chancel searches, to protect buyers against potential liability.