How To Deal With A Ransom Strip
One would reasonably assume in this day and age that holding someone to ransom is not something that would be tolerated either by the general values of society, or indeed by the law of the land.
And one would be right. Ransoms are underhanded, often criminal, and a most dishonest way of extracting money from people who are made vulnerable to a situation until a certain sum is paid to secure it.
And so, it’s absolutely no surprise that people who first come across the existence of a ransom strip are in the first instance amazed – perhaps even dumbfounded – that such a thing can exist in 2016, and secondly that ransom strips do indeed have legal validity.
What Are Ransom Strips?
In its purest form, a ransom strip is a small strip of land (and I do mean small – as small as 150mm is sufficient to show up in a plan, in fact) whose ownership is retained by the previous owner of the land or adjoining land.
Typically, the strip of land will be situated between the public highway and main access to the property being purchased. Thusly, the new owner of the land is denied access to his/her new property until money is received for the ransom strip.
In other cases, a ransom strip may also include the permission to widen a public road that leads to a property.
Ransom strips can sometimes be completely apparent on the ground, though in a lot of cases their existence might only be established by careful measurement or through the detailed study of plans. Sometimes ransom strips occur by accident, though oftentimes they are created intentionally by savvy land owners who sell off land.
What Is The Purpose of a Ransom Strip?
It is often argued that the purpose of a ransom strip is to prevent development of land simply through the process of denying access to that land, or the public highway.
However, as its name implies, the true purpose in a lot of cases is simply to extort payment for its release. Indeed, those who own such vital pieces of land sometimes demand considerable premiums from developers to allow them to access their development.
Are You Trespassing On Your Own Land?
“An Englishman’s castle may be his home but a siege mentality can seep in if someone else owns the drawbridge.”
So says Dan Moore in ThisIsMoney.co.uk, and indeed is a rather good analogy in getting to grips with the concept of ransom strips.
The ransom strip is essentially the ‘moat’ around the ‘castle’. Whilst you may be the whole undisputed owner of the castle, you may risk a charge of trespassing every time you cross someone else’s moat to access it.
Unless, I suppose, you intend to parachute into your property or development area every time you wish to enter it, this can – and does – prove to be a real point of contention and dispute amongst many neighbouring landowners.
Indeed, Moore in his article goes on to reference a case concerning Orpen Kisacikoglu’s £5 million home in Highgate, north London.
Kisacikoglu, a “35-year-old professional poker player was recently reported to be at loggerheads with a neighbour who recently discovered he owned an area of land dividing Kisacikoglu’s home from the road.
“The neighbour, Keith King, is demanding £500,000 to relinquish ownership of this portion of cobbled driveway – Kisacikoglu apparently offered £2,000 to buy it.”
Is This Not Blackmail?
Arguably not. Indeed, there are of course plenty of cases where ransom strips are retained in genuine conservation efforts to prevent development. In such cases, it is likely that all money offered to release the ransom will be rebuffed, and therefore it is pretty clear that the cause is real.
However, as in the Kisacikoglu case, the dispute often centres more around money than anything else.
What Is The Attitude Of the Courts?
In many situations, the decision of the courts very much turns on the particular facts and circumstances of the individual case. At its most basic, the question faced by the courts is whether a strip of land beside a road has been dedicated to public passage. In exercising their discretion, the courts consider the particular facts and circumstances of a case.
With this in mind, should you be faced with a situation concerning whether or not an area forms part of a public road, or are otherwise in contention with a neighbour or the local council as to the access of your development via a ransom strip, you (and your legal team) need to consider the following when you present your case to the courts.
How To Deal With A Ransom Strip
If the land is registered with the Land Registry, then the existence of a ransom strip may well be apparent in the documentation that your solicitor receives. However, if the land is not registered or the strip is part of adjoining land that is also not registered, then the details may not be apparent.
Indeed, if there is any suspicion that a ransom strip may exist, checks should be made on-site to determine the precise boundaries. If it is a simple ransom strip between the land and the road, then, in all probability, detailed measurements will appear on the plans with the title deeds.
Determine Strips Before Purchase
Crucially, it is of absolute importance that ransom strips are found before the land is purchased. In this way, the buyer can demand that the required sum to release the land should be deducted from the purchase price. This, indeed, is the best case scenario when it comes to purchasing land that is subject to a ransom strip.
However, there is no way that the sale of ransom strips can be forced by private individuals if the owners want to keep it. So, this again needs to be established before purchase. Indeed, even if you acquire planning permission to develop on a piece of land, it simply means that you may develop – not that you can, if it is still subject to the ransom strip. If there is a legal or physical impediment to the development of land, then the fact that planning permission is granted does nothing to remove that restriction.
However, authoritative bodies do of course have the powers of compulsory purchase, often for the building of runways or motorways etc. In this instance, the owner of the ransom strip may benefit, for the level of compensation must be fair and reasonable.
For the private individual, however, those hit with the bane of a ransom strip will first have to try and negotiate with the owner and attempt to thrash out a reasonable agreement between themselves. But, if this doesn’t work, then you are pretty much forced to engage solicitors or pay the price demanded.
Have you had any experiences with ransom strips? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.