Practice Areas

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  • Real Estate Law

    Real Estate Law Definition

    The origins of real estate law in England and Wales date back to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

    The law relating to land ownership has since developed steadily and land may now be held in one of three different legal “estates” – freehold, leasehold and the less commonly-used commonhold.

    A freehold estate owner may use and develop the land as it wishes, subject to any restrictions within the estate title and any planning or other regulatory restraints.

    The owner of a leasehold estate must also comply with the lease terms and holds the land only for a set period of time – a “term” – except where the term may be extended by virtue of various legislative Acts providing tenants with security of tenure if certain conditions are met.

    Commonhold was introduced only in 2002 and enables freehold owners of plots in larger developments to share ownership of the communal parts with other owners through a shareholding in a commonhold association.

    Rights may also be enjoyed over land owned by someone else, by dint of either agreement (express grant) or longevity of use.

    Real estate lawyers in full-service firms such as Dechert typically advise on issues including:

    • acquisition and disposal of interestsin the different estates of land outlined above. Different considerations apply depending on the industry sector involved, such as offices, retail and leisure, industrial and logistics, hotels, care facilities or specialist accommodation;
    • planning, where development including the demolition or extension of existing buildings, or their change of use, is envisaged;
    • negotiating and/or reviewing construction agreements and professional engagements for new developments or in the context of acquisition of interest in recently-constructed buildings, property under construction or property to be developed;
    • ongoing portfolio management to maximise returns;
    • title examination and due diligence on a property to the level determined by any underlying transaction (e.g., real estate financing or acquisition of real estate interest as part of a broader corporate transaction) and negotiating insurance to be put in place where title defects are discovered;
    • tax-efficient structuring. Taxes payable on investments or disposals of property are a key consideration and subject to frequent change;
    • joint ventures, real estate fund formation and related applicable regulation;
    • cross-border transactions, involving liaising with lawyers in other offices of the firm or using external counsel, while navigating different legal systems, languages and cultures; and
    • real estate litigation including landlord and tenant disputes, lease renewals, rent reviews, realisation of security, property-related insolvency, construction litigation and disputes arising out of the sale of land.


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