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How to avoid unused farm buildings being termed as abandoned

With derelict houses on farmland at risk of being classed as abandoned, Cheffins’ Ian Smith advises farmers on how to make sure unused dwellings do not lose their value.

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How to avoid unused farm buildings being termed as abandoned #PropertySpecial

Residential property which falls into disrepair is at risk of being considered abandoned resulting in the loss of use as a residential dwelling.

 

If the house loses it use, owners would have to apply for planning permission for a new home to repair or refurbish the property for residential use.

 

Ian Smith, director of Cheffins’ planning and development team, says with a lack of housing, stringent planning constraints and thousands of derelict properties across the UK, farmers and landowners need to be aware of properties being considered as abandoned if they intend to eventually reuse them or would like to include them in valuations, loan security or other transactions.

 

“Frequently we see that owners have had long-held objectives to return these properties to beneficial use but may not have done so for a long period for various reasons – ownership complications, available finance, or simply there being other farm or estate priorities,” he says.

 

Abandonment is not a term defined in planning statute or regulations but ‘a concept derived by the courts’.


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“It describes a situation where a property has been disused to the extent it has lost its existing use rights and has zero status in planning terms.

 

“It follows that such a property cannot even be repaired or refurbished without the owner first obtaining planning permission – and this is the essential point here for owners of these types of property.”

 

To tell if a property has been abandoned, the physical condition of the property, the length of non-occupation and intervening uses are considered.

 

“If a property is totally derelict, lacking utility provisions and requires total rebuilding then it is likely it may well be considered abandoned and have lost any residential use rights,” he says.

 

This would mean a farmer or landowner would need to obtain planning permission for a new home to bring it back into residential use.

“The period of non-occupation is also an indicator, although there are no firm rules as to what is an acceptable period of non-use and there are cases where periods of several decades have not prevented confirmation of use rights.

 

“If a former residential property has been used to house livestock for a period of time, for example, then it also likely the residential use rights will be considered to have been lost.”

 

For landowners looking to clarify whether their dwelling may require permission to bring a building back into use, the ‘most appropriate method’ is to obtain a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use.

 

“Firstly, a certificate will allow the straightforward sale of the property to a prospective occupier.

 

“Secondly, a certificate then enables an owner to apply for planning permission for a replacement dwelling on the site, and thirdly, a certificate may be important for financial reasons, for example increasing a valuation, loan security or other transactional purposes.

“Above all, a certificate provides reassurance to the owner that they do indeed still have a property asset and one which may well be worthy of investment and improvement.”

 

He recommends all landowners with properties which ‘appear to be in need of some TLC’ consider obtaining a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use, ‘especially if they would like to use the property for residential use in the future’.

 

How to avoid unused farm dwellings being termed as abandoned:

  • Keep all houses in a reasonable state of repair, even if they are rarely used and not currently lived in
  • Keep hold of all records of maintenance and use, such as utility bills, general upkeep, occupation and so on
  • Do not try and introduce other uses into the dwelling, such as using for storage or to house livestock
  • Make sure to take advice if a building has deteriorated significantly
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