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Help!! Need to serve Party Wall notice but next door neighbour is dead!!!

(11 Posts)
Quodlibet Thu 14-Jan-16 08:27:33

Before you think I'm callous, they've been dead for years. We've just discovered that the reclusive man we assumed was the owner is in fact a sitting tenant of dubious legality.

We are about to start a much needed loft conversion. Have already shelled out £££ to get legal paperwork around leasehold/freehold sorted our end. Just scoping out neighbours to ensure none of them will object to party wall notice and we discover this bombshell.

The detail: we are first floor maisonette. The first floor maisonette next door is leasehold and owned by dead woman. The freehold and downstairs maisonette next door are owned by another man who doesn't object to our plans. He also owns the loft space above the first floor maisonette, so presumably the portion of party wall which would actually be affected by the work.

Anyone got any clue what our options are? We are trying to make contact with reclusive tenant to gain access to next door's loft to survey if necessary. I've contacted a couple of party wall specialist firms for advice.
Could we get indemnity insurance to cover this situation?

We are quite frankly fucked if we can't do our conversion as we can't move and have another baby on the way.

swillows Thu 14-Jan-16 08:56:58

How did you find out that the owner is dead? It sounds like you have not spoken to the tenant.

The maisonette won't be owned by the dead person - it is probably owned by the executors / trustees of her will and this tenant is allowed to occupy it under the terms of that will. In which case the party wall notice needs to be served on the executors / trustees and they will need to notify the tenant.

Quodlibet Thu 14-Jan-16 09:02:23

We spoke to the downstairs freeholder who has been living with this situ for years and has some vague knowledge.
I then downloaded the Land Reg title, which is still registered in the name of the woman. Death records showed up a woman of that name dying in 1999. I've ordered a copy of the will/probate in an attempt to find out who the executors are. The tenant doesn't answer the door, hand-delivered letters and may not answer my email to him. The downstairs man thought he was occupying in dubious circs so may well be avoiding anything 'legal' to do with the property, which is an obstacle. One possibility is that is is a potential inheritee of the flat (he's been there 30 years) but can't afford the inheritance tax bill so hasn't accepted it? Apparently the flat was briefly on the market some years ago but the lease is short and it needs substantial repair so only suitable for a cash buyer.

Ughnotagain Thu 14-Jan-16 09:02:36

Can you not check the Land Registry? Owner's details will be on there.

chocaholic73 Thu 14-Jan-16 10:19:24

I think you need legal advice. Some solicitors will give you a one off advice session free. The tenant is a red herring and doesn't have any relevance if they don't own it. There has to be a legal owner who will be the deceased's persons next of kin. It may be that attempts to locate distant family members have stalled for some reason although 1999 does sound like a long time ago for it not to have been sorted. If there are no beneficiaries, ultimately it would be sold and the proceeds go to the government. Sorry you are in this situation but it's tricky and you need to get professional help here.

SantasLittleMonkeyButler Thu 14-Jan-16 10:23:40

As swillows says. Dead people do not own property, the ownership will have passed to someone else in accordance with the old lady's Will.

A Land Registry search should be able to help you.

SantasLittleMonkeyButler Thu 14-Jan-16 10:25:42

Sorry, just read your second post properly!

Yes, probate documents should at least give you contact details for the executors of the old lady's estate.

swillows Thu 14-Jan-16 10:36:12

You are doing absolutely the right thing by getting copy probate and tracking down the executors / trustees that way. The tenant cannot avoid Inheritance Tax - the tax falls on the estate itself not a beneficiary and if the executors needed to sell the flat to meet the tax bill then they would have had to do that.

The copy probate will show the name and address of the executor(s) that applied for the probate and at the bottom will also show any solicitors involved (under 'extracted by').

wowfudge Thu 14-Jan-16 10:41:41

The neighbour who is there 'in dubious circumstances' may well have inherited perfectly legally and could even be the surviving spouse. It may just be that the property hasn't been registered in his name.

Quodlibet Thu 14-Jan-16 17:50:30

Thanks for input.
So, presuming I have found the right dead woman and ordered the right probate, that should give me helpful detail in 10 days or so.

From advice/info from various sources today:
Whoever is now responsible for the property had a duty to inform the land reg, which they have failed to do, maybe for 16 years! If this was solicitors it is a serious breach which they could be struck off for. One opinion was that by failing to register title, the new owners (whoever they are) have effectively forfeited the protections of the party wall act, so frankly, fuck em - although I'm not sure I'm brave enough to be that cavalier. The new owners are also presumably not paying ground rent or service charges to the freeholder, since he doesn't know who they are.

We can attempt to serve a party wall notice. However, once we do this, IF we don't get a response it automatically is in dispute. We then must appoint a surveyor who the tenant has to give access to. The surveyor will find in our favour but the upshot is we will have to spend £2k+ on some unnecessary paperwork.

The current tenant (whatever his standing - maybe he is the beneficiary, but if so, legally he isn't registered on the title) tried to sell the property in 2012, but the sale didn't complete - I deduced this from the estate agent who handled the listing. Not surprising given the lease is only 65 years so unmortgageable. How can he try to sell it if he isn't the registered owner?

Someone - the executor, the beneficiary - has to be the legal owner, right? It appears to be in some sort of limbo currently. This is what made me wonder - if a potential beneficiary had no way of paying the inheritance tax, could they prevaricate indefinitely on taking ownership? Particularly if they got the benefit anyway of a long-term free tenancy in the bargain??

One way or another, whoever is the legal owner of the leasehold has dodged some responsibilities for some years...

However, I'm unclear how I should handle it. By pushing for clear ownership details we are possibly opening a legal can of worms that our hermit NDN has been trying to avoid....but we need his cooperation really!

bessiebumptious2 Thu 14-Jan-16 20:33:05

It could turn out to be an adverse possession case, particularly if the current tenant is unresponsive. Could be that the legal owner died and nothing happened with the property - it does happen. I know someone who has taken possession of such a property and has been living there now for about 10 years having completely renovated it (and legally claimed it - he knew the neighbour who had a key and the house had been 'abandoned' for around 20+ years).

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