If you are buying or selling property, having an 'understanding' of what covenants are meant to mean is no substitute for making sure the covenant is correctly worded - as a recent case illustrates.

The case concerned a property was conveyed with a right of way over a pathway over the adjacent property such that access could be obtained to the road from the rear of the property. In such circumstances, where the ability to use someone else’s land in some way (called an easement in legal parlance) is granted, it is usual for its terms to state any restrictions which may apply to its use.

The right of way stated that the occupiers of the property had the right of use of the pathway at all times for the purpose of access to or egress from the property for ‘all reasonable use necessary for the proper enjoyment of the property’. Unfortunately for their neighbour, this involved access early in the morning and late at night by visitors. The neighbours took the view that this use was more than was needed ‘for the proper enjoyment of the property’ and sought a ruling to restrict the use of the path.

The judge agreed, ruling that the original purpose of the right of way was to allow access to the rear of the property when access to the front was impracticable. In reaching this decision, he considered two documents which purported to come from the local council (which had sold both properties under the ‘right to buy’ legislation). These stated that the right of way was restricted in various ways. One of these documents, however, was written after the properties had been sold.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the decision was reversed. The understanding of the parties at the time of the grant of the right of way was not in point, what mattered was the law which applied. The legal documentation clearly stated that the grant of the right of way applied at all times for the reasonable use of the property. If there had been the intention to limit the right, it should have been contained in the deeds.