Stand and deliver – Ransom strips
It is strange to think that in our modern times any person can be held to ransom; legally no less. However, it is a fate that can befall any one of us that would acquire land without proper access.
A ransom strip is the given expression for a portion of land that exists at the boundary of another piece of land and interrupts access to that second area. Commonly, a ransom strip will block access to a site from a publicly adopted highway. However, it could also serve to prevent access to other lands you may own or have rights of way over.
The existence of a ransom strip may be down to any one of a multitude of reasons. These reasons fall into two distinct camps: mistake and intentional.
A ransom strip occurring by mistake could be a result of incorrectly placed boundaries when lands are being mapped. Whereas a shrewd developer could engineer a potential ransom strip if, for example, they didn’t want future developers benefitting at their expense. To illustrate this, consider the hypothetical example of Charles Kane and his housing development, Xanadu Gardens. Mr Kane will incur a considerable outlay in building roadways through his development to provide access to its various houses. These roads will be adopted on completion of all works. If you were the owner of empty lands residing behind Xanadu Gardens, you would have an opportunity to create your own development and make use of the investment in Xanadu Gardens by connecting your development to its, now adopted, roads. If Mr Kane was indeed shrewd, he may have retained a strip of land at the boundary of Xanadu Gardens where the adopted roadway would meet your new development; therefore preventing access to the new site from the adopted roads by holding the lands he has retained to ransom.
Whether as a result of mistake or intention, the reality of facing a demand on foot of a ransom strip will usually result in a payment. What you are prepared to pay, is up to you. The case of Stokes v Cambridge Corp  180 E.G. 839 is often cited in negotiations pertaining to ransom strips. The case values ransom strips at one third of the value of the uplift in the property price with full access. However, this case concerns compulsorily purchased lands and any amount will ultimately have to be agreed between the parties. A quick search on your internet search engine of choice will provide a plethora of news stories on the matter. One such story involved a professional poker player’s London home with a ransom strip issue; the poker player’s offer of £2,000 was met with a demand for £500,000.
There are alternatives to payment when considering a ransom strip. It is possible to acquire a prescriptive right over the land or acquire the land itself through adverse possession. Either route involves careful consideration of the circumstances of the ransom strip.
To avoid falling foul of a ransom demand; remember to keep the issue of access very high on your list of priorities when considering a purchase of any property. If discovered prior to the sale, the cost can be deducted from the purchase price. You should also get advice from a good solicitor. Bearing that in mind, if you require any advice relating to a ransom strip issue; please contact a member of our Real Estate team.
While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.