Laying The Foundations Of Property Law. What Are the Current Issues?

Property law provides principles which oversee the possession and tenancy of properties, whether these are commercial or personal. Commercial property concerns those affiliated with businesses or land which generates a profit during its occupancy. In contrast, personal property refers to the buying and selling of residential housing, purchased for the purpose of dwelling. Disputes in this division usually arise over the transfer of land, the ownership of land, tenancies, licenses, easements, mortgages and adverse possession.

Land has always been valued highly; thus, the market for buying, selling and leasing property is unlikely to halt. Henceforth, this legal practise area is considered a particularly stable field, marked by its inclusion in the qualifying law undergraduate degree syllabus as a compulsory module.
Property law is also characterised by its cyclical nature: economic conditions are intrinsically linked to the demand and valuation of real estate. In an economic downturn, you would expect to witness a reduction in demand for new properties, a sharp decrease in values and an increased difficulty in acquiring a conventional bank loan.

Life as a property lawyer

This field is a transactional division of law. Lawyers are tasked with negotiating property transactions between parties, drafting conveyancing documentation, organising investment arrangements, and preparing contracts to finalise transactions. Trainees are typically allowed a lot of responsibility, working on around 20 cases at any one time. The work/life balance in this practise is desirable; property law is known to have more sociable hours than other transactional fields. However, the role is largely a desk job, with a significant proportion of time being spent on the phone. The average salary of a property lawyer is £46,000, although this amount is location and firm size dependent. In addition to the traditional solicitors qualification route (an undergraduate degree followed by the LPC and a two year training contract), you can qualify through becoming a licensed conveyancer. This involves studying for a Level 4 Diploma in Conveyancing Law and Practise before undertaking the Level 6 Diploma. City firms known for their involvement in property law include DLA Piper, Allen & Overy, Taylor Wessing, Irwin Mitchell and Clifford Chance.

Current issues

As previously stated, during an economic downturn you would expect a decline in demand, value and conventional bank lending. Surprisingly, COVID-19 has sighted a surge in property market activity. The property industry has experienced robust growth thanks to the prolonged suspension of the stamp duty. Stamp duty is the tax levied on property purchase transactions. The suspension of this fee until March 31st 2021 has relieved some of the financial burden of those in the property market, making people more likely to buy, which prevents a bleak economy damaging the industry. Furthermore, the travel restrictions implemented as a result of COVID-19 has caused problems for tenants and leaseholders. A break clause is a contractual term which enables the termination of a contract before the drafted date. Quarantine has caused difficulty in exercising break clauses because tenants cannot (in some cases) access the property to remove its contents. This is an issue in two instances. Firstly, some break clauses expressly provide the tenant to give up occupation. In some situations this would only refer to the individual’s living arrangements. However, upon closer inspection of the language within the clause, in some cases, tenants may find that this extends to the removal of their belongings. This is dependent on the purpose of the contract, for example, if the space was adapted specifically to store heavy duty machinery, then the presence of this machinery would constitute as ‘occupation’. The second instance in which a break clause cannot be exercised without removing the property’s contents is where the clause requires vacant possession as a term of the lease. This necessitates the absence of people and possessions from the property in order to execute the break clause. Unfortunately for tenants, the argument that the contract has been frustrated is weak because this requires for the performance of the entire contract to be impossible, which is not the case. Although the lease can technically be executed, the requirements underneath a specific clause cannot be.

The need for connectivity in an increasingly digital world has resulted in an amendment to telecommunications legislation. The Telecommunications Act 2017 has set out the relationship between landowners and operators, clarifying the rights of each party when the operator installs and maintains electronic communications. But what is the relevance of this now? This case is recent, thus has little case law to demonstrate its application. Therefore, commercial property lawyers will likely be tasked with handling disputes concerning niche aspects of the law in this Act. In light of the anticipated 5G roll out, further legislation will probably be enacted to bring clarification and prevent nationwide disputes.

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