This article needs attention from an expert in law.(November 2010)
In the United Kingdom, a rentcharge is an annual sum paid by the owner of freehold land (terre-tenant) to the owner of the rentcharge (rentcharger), a person who need have no other legal interest in the land. They are often known as chief rents in the north west of England but the term ground rent is used in many parts of the country to refer to either a rentcharge or a rent payable on leasehold land. This is confusing as a true ground rent is a sum payable in relation to land held under a lease. As a result, it is important to know the status of the land for which, an annual sum is paid.
Rentcharge is a legal device which permitted an annual payment to be continually levied on a freehold property. It has been in existence since the 1290 Statute of Quia Emptores and was originally payable to the lord of the manor in perpetuity.
Rentcharges provided a regular income for landowners who were prepared to release land for development, the original builder, or in some cases a third party. The payments due are typically between £2 to £5 per annum, which are no longer a significant burden due to past inflation. Sometimes the land was released without a capital sum being paid with the rentcharge being the only payment. Once imposed, a rentcharge continues to bind all the land even when the land is later divided and sold off in plots. In such cases one terre-tenant can be made responsible for paying the whole rent. That person is then left to collect the appropriate portion from the other terre-tenants whose land is subject to the rentcharge.
The Rentcharges Act 1977 seeks to abolish most forms of rentcharge. Section 2 prohibited the creation of new rentcharges except for 'estate rentcharges' (see below). Such rentcharges may also be redeemed (i.e. ‘bought out’) by the terre-tenant, generally for around sixteen times the annual amount of the rentcharge in accordance with provisions in the Act. Although many rentchargers will try to make a private settlement with the terre-tenant, the Act provides a formula which enables Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to calculate the redemption figure that the terre-tenant has to pay the rentcharger in order to redeem their rentcharge. When the transaction has been completed DCLG, on behalf of the Secretary of State, issues a redemption certificate to the terre-tenant. Any existing rentcharges other than estate rentcharges will be extinguished on 22 August 2037.
The 1977 Act retained ‘estate rentcharges’. These are rentcharges that serve one of two purposes. Either the rentcharge is used as a device to impose a duty on the terre-tenant to perform a covenant or it is used to pay for services performed by the rentcharger for the provision of services, maintenance etc. for the benefit of the land burdened by the rentcharge. Rentcharges will therefore continue to exist as a means of paying for the upkeep of freehold estates.
Ground rent is a similar concept but is applicable to leasehold property, not freehold.
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