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To the front of it was a small strip of land owned by Network Rail. The conveyancers had failed to identify that this area of land was not part of our client's property, and if they purchased the land they would have no right of way over it. The matter therefore concerned something called a 'ransom strip'.
For many years vehicular access was gained to our client's property over the front of a neighbour's land. Although this had been allowed by previous owners, it was stopped when a new owner moved into the property next door to our client, therefore preventing vehicular access to the client's property. Network Rail was approached by the client, who wanted to know how much it would cost to buy the land. Their agents recognised that the land was a 'ransom strip' and asked for £40,000 for it.
Liability was quickly admitted by the conveyancers' insurers, but they continued to raise questions over the issue of loss.
The first of the questions posed by the conveyancers related to what rights our client had. Arguably, they should have known this as they had conveyed the property. We quickly established we did not believe that the client had any express right of way over the ransom strip.
A further question raised by the conveyancers was whether or not a right of way had arisen over any other land in favour of our clients. However, since vehicular access was obtained with permission, any rights obtained would not include vehicular access. The claim by the conveyancers that our clients (and their predecessors in title) had acquired title by way of adverse possession of land suffered similar difficulties.
In addition, there was the problem that Network Rail had given an indication that they may sell the land to someone else. While that would not prevent our client putting forward a claim against the owners of the ransom strip, it would not solve the problem of access.
In our view, there was insufficient evidence to bring any claims against the neighbours, including Network Rail, and therefore we sued the conveyancers for the cost of the ransom strip. We were able to do this and entered into a no-win-no-fee agreement with the client.
Ransom strips are generally small areas of land. They can be as narrow as six inches and are generally located between two pieces of land. Their importance is that they divide the land and prevent access to one or both plots. They are often unnoticed by conveyancers, especially if there is no reference to them in deeds or at the Land Registry.
If there is a suspicion a ransom strip may affect a property, it is important they are investigated. It is important this is done immediately, discreetly, and thoroughly.
A property owner affected by a ransom strip may have no alternative but to open negotiations with the owner of the strip. The owner may well find that the price of the strip (irrespective of its size) is commonly a third of the value of the affected land.
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