Abandoned property – don’t lose value and use rights

When is a house no longer a house? The answer is, when it has been abandoned.

With a lack of rural housing and stringent planning constraints, farmers and landowners need to be aware of properties being considered abandoned if they intend to eventually reuse them.

It is not uncommon to find cottages or small dwellings on farms and estates that have been left derelict.

Owners may have long-held objectives to return these properties to beneficial use but may not have done so for a long period for various reasons – ownership complications, lack of finance or simply other farm or estate priorities.

See also: Housebuilding boom – what does it mean for farmers?


Abandonment is not a term defined in planning statute or regulations but a concept derived by the courts.

How to avoid abandoned status

  • Keep property weatherproof and in reasonable order
  • Keep records of ownership, occupation and use

It describes a situation where a property has been disused to the extent that it has lost its existing use rights and has zero status in planning terms.

Such a property cannot even be repaired or refurbished without the owner first obtaining planning permission. 

As well as causing planning complications when an owner seeks to use the property as a residence once again, abandoned status has implications for valuation and can cause issues when farms are put on the market.

Practice has demonstrated that there are three main factors in determining whether a property has been abandoned or not.

These are:

  • The physical condition of the property
  • The length of non-occupation
  • How a property has been used since its last occupation as a dwelling. 

If a property is derelict, has no utilities and needs to be totally rebuilt then it is likely that it may well be considered abandoned and have lost any residential use rights.

This would mean that for a farmer or landowner to bring this property back into residential use they would need to obtain planning permission for a new home. This is clearly a subjective test.

Use rights

The period of non-occupation is also an indicator, although there are no firm rules as to what is an acceptable period of non-use and there are cases where periods of several decades have not prevented confirmation of use rights.

However, if a former residential property has been used to house livestock or for another alternative use then it also likely that the residential use rights will be considered to have been lost.

Where a property may be considered abandoned, this can result in a situation where even repairs to a dwelling may require planning permission.

The status of a property, i.e. confirmation that a property has not been abandoned, can be established by obtaining a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use.

This involves an application to the local authority. In the case of a dwelling such an application would be to confirm a lawful Class C3 (residential) use.

An approved certificate for a lawful C3 use that confirms residential use rights can then be used for a number of purposes.

First, a certificate will allow the straightforward sale of the property to a prospective occupier.

Second, a certificate then enables an owner to apply for planning permission for a replacement dwelling on the site.

Third, a certificate may be important for financial reasons i.e. increasing a valuation, loan security or other transactional purposes.

A certificate provides reassurance to the owner that they do indeed still have a property asset and one that may well be worthy of investment and improvement.

How do I get a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use?

The process is relatively simple and requires:

  • Appropriate plans
  • Completion of forms
  • Setting out the case including property history with details of ownership, occupation and use
  • Fee paid to the local authority – £462