IN THE "MANOR" TO WHICH WE ARE ACCUSTOMED: REGENCY VILLAS V DIAMOND RESORTS

An easement is a legal and enforceable right for a person to use another's land in a certain way, for example, where a landowner grants a neighbour a right of way over a roadway on their property.

In the case of Regency Villas Title Ltd v Diamond Resorts (Europe) Ltd, the Supreme Court confirmed that recreational rights can be the subject of an easement.

Background

Broome Park Estate, formerly the home of Lord Kitchener (famous for being the face (and finger) of WWI army recruitment posters) sits in the Kent countryside, and comprised the main Jacobean-era manor house, extensive grounds and a further property, known as "Elham House".

In the late 1960's, some time after Kitchener's tenure of Broome Park, Elham House was sold off from the main estate. In 1979, Broome Park (minus Elham House) was acquired by Gulf Investments Limited ("Gulf"), which had ambitions to create a country club and timeshare complex. The plans involved the creation of new timeshare units within the original manor house, together with the construction of community, sporting and leisure facilities for the use of residents and club members.

The development at Broome Park proved to be a great success and in the early 1980's, Elham House was re-purchased by Gulf which redeveloped the site into further timeshare units, renamed "Regency Villas".

In 1981, the Regency Villas site was transferred by Gulf to Regency Villas Title Limited, the Respondent and Cross-Appellant in the action. In the transfer Gulf granted a right over the Broome Park Estate in favour of Regency Villas:

"the Transferee, its successors in title, its lessees and the occupiers from time to time of the property [Regency Villas] to use the swimming pool, golf course, squash courts, tennis courts, the ground and basement floors of the sporting and recreational facilities…on the Transferor's Estate [Broome Park]".

The Issue

From time to time the Regency Villas time share owners made voluntary contributions towards the cost of maintenance of the Broom Park Estate facilities, but over the years, there was a reduction in the number of the available facilities; the swimming pool fell into disuse and was filled in, the putting green, croquet lawn, Jacuzzi and skating rink closed and the riding stables were demolished. Some time after 1981, a new indoor swimming pool was constructed in the basement of the manor house and Gulf denied the Regency Villas time share owners access to it. A dispute over maintenance contributions arose, and Gulf denied the Regency Villas time share owners use of any facilities on the Broome Park Estate.

Dissatisfied with the loss of amenity that was facing them, the Regency Villas time share owners began legal action. They sought a declaration that they had valid rights over the Broome Park Estate leisure facilities and compensation for the loss of their access to the leisure facilities. They were also seeking an injunction against Gulf to prevent further interference with the leisure facilities.

The case was put to trial and then appealed before it was ultimately heard by the Supreme Court.

The Decision

The Supreme Court found in favour of the Regency Villas time share owners, dismissing the appeal against them and allowing their cross-appeal.

The Court was satisfied that the wording in the 1981 transfer document complied with the legal tests to establish a valid easement. Further the Court confirmed that the rights were not limited to the recreational facilities in existence at the time of the grant, but encapsulated future facilities built on Broome Park including the new indoor swimming pool, and made further orders to provide compensation for the Regency Villas owners in relation to their loss of use of the leisure facilities.

Collas Crill's UK Real Estate team are experts at addressing and resolving matters concerning easements. If we can be of assistance, please get in touch.

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