Unity of Seisin Rule– What does it mean?
11 October 2021 by Emily Wickington
The unity of seisin rule, may be better known as the third characteristic of an easement and it relates to the ownership of land to which an easement applies.
Firstly though, what is an easement?
An easement is a right granted over a piece of burdened land (this is known as the servient land) which benefits another piece of land (this is known as the dominant land). Furthermore, the third characteristic of any easement is that the dominant and servient land must be owned by different persons.
This characteristic may be referred to as the unity of seisin rule because ‘seisin’ historically denoted the legal possession of a feudal fiefdom (ie hereditary land) within the old feudal system. In more modern terms, the rule protects the unity of ownership and possession of land.
The unity of seisin rule can have an impact on the creation and the termination of easements, and can have a similar effect on covenants also.
With regards to the creation of an easement, if you own land and plan to sell part of it, you cannot prior to the sale or in preparation for the sale create an easement benefitting one part and burdening the other, or provide a covenant which binds one part to the benefit of the other. This can only be done at the time of the transfer, when the land is split and changes ownership.
Recently, the commercial property team had a client who queried whether restrictive covenants affecting their land had been practically extinguished through the unity of seisin rule. This is because, regardless of the length of the ownership, if two pieces of land over which easements or covenants are granted come into the same ownership, the easements and covenants will effectively be extinguished.
In the statement above, ownership refers to freehold ownership, simply possessing the land without owning it (for example if you are leasing the land) does not extinguish any easement or covenants granted between them.
If an easement or covenant has been extinguished by the rule, then it will need to be reinstated on any subsequent disposal of the land if the owner so wishes, this means it will need to be expressly included in any transfer, lease or disposal document at the time.
If you own land and wish to sell subject to easements or covenants, or you think that the unity of seisin rule may apply to easements in connection with your land, please do get in touch with our commercial property team contact Ellen Petersen on 01206 835316 or email [email protected].
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