People living on Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells Commons are being invited to meetings later this month where they will receive legal advice in their ongoing battle with Targetfollow.
The owners of Rusthall Manor sent out their latest letter, headed ‘Without prejudice save as to costs’, repeating details of how those who live on the commons may be liable to pay the company for access to their own properties and utilities.
It stipulates an annual fee of £350 and a sign-up charge of £300 – in many cases simply to get in and out of houses by crossing a narrow strip of grass – and to use the gas, electricity and water services provided across the common land. It is the third letter the company has sent.
Two meetings will be held at the borough council offices at the instigation of Rusthall Parish Council to provide ‘reassurance’. Exact dates have yet to be confirmed.
The meetings will be attended by Jill Thomas of Tunbridge Wells solicitors Thomas Haywood, who will be on hand to offer legal advice.
Targetfollow has now openly recognised the right of ‘prescriptive easement’, when access is permitted because it is ‘legally established or accepted by long usage or the passage of time’ – the period being 20 years or more. This had not been mentioned in earlier letters.
In the latest correspondence they specify that residents have ‘the opportunity’ to provide documentation of any deed of easement or licence, after which ‘no further action will be taken’. If the rights have not been registered, Targetfollow offer to do so ‘for a one-off fee’.
And if neither of those criteria is met, the company ‘will contact you to agree a licence to formalise rights that you require’, and negotiate the fees on a case-by-case basis. They add that they have found ‘there is no evidence of the existence’ of such prescriptive rights having been recorded with the Land Registry.
But if freeholders satisfy the requirement of long usage, they are not under any obligation to register such rights. Jill Thomas tells the Times: “Some of the residents might choose to go through the process of registering in order to give themselves peace of mind. There can be no dispute if the residents do register.
“But Targetfollow do not know who has done so and who hasn’t. Some are registered on their deeds, some have held licences in the past, and some have done nothing. The problem is that if one person gives in to Targetfollow, they will think they are on to something.”
One of the meetings will be held during the day and the other in the evening to allow as many people as possible the chance to attend.
Rusthall Parish Council has advised residents ‘not to respond or enter into any licence agreement’ with the Norwich-based property investment and development firm.
The company has insisted that it is merely trying to formalise the position of residents in response to enquiries from the locals who are trying to sell their properties.
However, far from helping with the sale, the succession of letters has hindered those who are attempting to move away because the correspondence appears on internet searches.
IGNORING LETTERS COULD LEAD TO DIFFICULTIES
There are circumstances in which residents who have not registered any rights of access and refuse to pay for them after receiving a letter from Targetfollow could be landed in legal difficulties.
Tunbridge Wells solicitor Jill Thomas said: “Ignoring the letters and doing nothing is not necessarily the solution.
“They may have their claim to qualify for prescriptive easement denied by three factors which the law describes as ‘nec vi, nec clem, nec precario’, meaning ‘without force, without secrecy, without permission’.
“So if the landowner has ever said to you in the past, ‘Oh yes, it’s ﬁ ne for you to walk or drive over the common’, you might not be entitled to claim prescriptive rights as a matter of course.
“Similarly, if someone who lived in your property before you moved in had been given permission, that might also invalidate your claim.”
Though they are less likely scenarios, she added that the same could apply if you ‘break down some gates or decide to access the common in the dead of night’.
Mrs Thomas warns: “If Targetfollow do choose to pursue some of the residents, their options are either to go to court to seek a declaration that they have recognised prescriptive easement or to seek to register prescriptive easements at the Land Registry.
“But both of these courses of action would cost money,” she pointed out. “What might happen instead is that the residents could band together and make applications for a declaration to be heard together by the court.”