Enforcement notice on recently bought property - with an absentee freeholder

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    Enforcement notice on recently bought property - with an absentee freeholder

    Hi all
    I am new to posting but have found the forums very helpful so far so I hope you can help me.

    I have bought a 2 bed property at auction and therefore I am legally already bound into a buying the property, paying a 10% deposit of 25k, with a completion date on 23rd March..

    Through local searches I have found out that the building I am purchasing was given an enforcement notice on 18/10/2006.

    This is due to the previous owners (who are also the freeholders) converting the house from a single family dwelling into three flats and a two story rear extension without prior planning permission.

    Despite this notice, they still sold the three flats between July and August of 2007. Ever since, both the freeholders have not been contactable, despite numerous attempts, and are therefore classed as "absent freeholders".

    So the two issues here are that I have committed to buying a property that has no permission to be there, and that we have a absentee freeholder who has not complied with the enforcement notice. They are running away from a 20k fine.

    The issue with the planning is that the conversion was 10 years ago and ever since the property has been occupied by tenants thus establishing a use and a demand. Each flat has been paying council tax for these years too. I am most likely going to continue with the purchase so I don't lose the deposit, but what should be my first steps?

    It has been 10 years, so I wonder if the 4 years existence rules apply? How likely is it that we would be granted retrospective planning permission?

    To resolve the absentee freeholder issue, another leaseholder and I may apply for a Vesting Order to obtain the freehold in order to manage to the property properly, in the interest of the council, leaseholders and our neighbourhood. I wouldn't know which order to do this in though, is it a risk to obtain the freehold which has an enforcement notice on it?

    Ideally, we need to know if the council have any plans to pursue the enforcement notice and what we need to do from here. I just can't see why they would?

    The other leaseholder (flat a) is eager for me to get the freehold with him as he is in the same boat as me. Essentially without a freeholder the property is unsellable. There is an owner of flat b too, but they are uncontactable - the tenant in there is his relative- and will not divulge any information or contact details.

    It's all a bit of a mess, I just need someone to tell me what to do after I complete - chase the freehold, or is that risky? I am contacting the council but they are so slow.

    #2
    Hi,

    You may need to take out title or other insurance in case that all goes bad.

    The enforcement notice may have fallen away or could still be operative, but would need proper analysis and investigation.

    If the leaseholders join together you can seek to acquire the freehold via vesting order after you satisfy the Court that the freeholder cannot be located - this involves various steps being taken and evidenced e.g. certain forms of advertising and also placard placement at the property are just part of that. If the Court isn’t happy they will then direct yet more steps before they will hear you again. You also need to have the freehold valued and supported by a valuation report from a reputable valuer, the sum they propose is part of what is advanced to the Court, and if accepted by the Judge is paid in to Court. If the freeholder turns up in the following years they can claim the money out from the Court, otherwise eventually it goes bona vacantia (to the Crown).

    If you buy the freehold then you buy any ongoing liability that may exist for any breaches (planning, building regs or otherwise), hence why analysing the issue before purchasing the freeholder is the key.

    To be frank, your situation is fraught with issues. You and your fellow leaseholders may all be owners of illegal conversions (who knows what the enforcement was about), which could have a myriad of awful possible consequences. This one goes in my "get proper advice" category, do not leave this to chance as there are too many ways that you could lose a lot here.
    Anything I say here should not be taken as legal advice. I am an experienced litigation lawyer with over 15 years experience.

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