So first things first, if you have seen it mentioned, you may be curious in regards to what grandfather rights are. If you have not seen this term, you may have seen it tossed around more formally as lawful prior non-conforming use.
Grandfather rights also referred to as grandfather clause or grandfathering, is a term that applies to various situations where policy may change, but those that have already been functioning on the old policy may continue to do so and any newcomer may not. Those that follow the old policies are given the term grandfathered in.
Grandfather rights can not be fully revoked but at certain times and it can be controlled and limited but this all depends on the situation and if certain timeframes are not complied with. This all is factored by a case to case basis though, so having a grandfather clause in place for a property you own is not a guarantee changes will not be needed.
Photo Credit: Rose Law Group
Grandfather rights are very commonly applied to a property. This is because zoning laws and other legislation are constantly shifting, so this does allow for buildings to not have to constantly need to be updated and changed to meet new laws.
As mentioned, grandfather rights can be carried out on a case to case basis. This is important to keep in mind when you are investing in property.
One scenario where it was allowed was in Japan in the 1980s. Building compliance changed to be able to withstand increasing seismic activity, but existing buildings did not need to update. As a result, many of those buildings soon crumbled during massive earthquakes due to not being up to the new code and many people had to write off the losses.
Other issues may involve insulation, heating, or other nuances of a home or building. This means as a property owner you will need to see what legally must be updated no matter what is already existing. Having an unsafe property leaves a great deal of liability resting on the head of the property owner, so you will want to be sure you have your bases covered.
If you are exempt from certain changes, you may not want to enact grandfather rights though.As mentioned, it may be more beneficial to be able to keep your property and home fully updated as this helps with safety and compliance and depending on the needed upgrades could increase your overall property value as well.
As a property buyer, this means seeing when updates were last done and what may need to be done. A cheap sale could signal a “carpenter’s choice” situation where the updates that will need to be done cost more than the buy price and the current owner simply wants to get rid of that part of their portfolio.
As a property buyer, another item that you need to keep a look out for is if you opt to buy a property that is not residential, but the surrounding area starts to further develop and the area is zoned as residential. This new zoning would prevent you from buying up empty lots and expanding to prevent further competitor development of the area.
Within the UK, there is a specific grandfather clause to be on the look for as far as property rights go. If a person can prove they have been using and occupying a property for twelve years or more (some areas have a minimum of closer to twenty or thirty years depending on the legislation), they may be the legal owner of the land without having any outright deed or written proof.
This does mean they would have to prove they have been actively occupying and using the land. This can include things like building on the land, updating fixtures or other acts that would prove maintenance had been done.
If a case like this presents itself, it is important to contact a solicitor or other legal advisor to see who is the registered owner of the land.