How would you feel if you got an official letter that held you, an ordinary homeowner, responsible for the repairs of a local church? Even if you didn’t belong to the congregation and never set foot inside the building?
When Elaine Hession opened the letter she almost passed out, and her partner Jonathan Hill turned “as white as a ghost”.
Last month the couple received a notice from the Land Registry informing them their local church had registered its right to make them contribute to the cost of repairs.
Under chancel repair liability, homeowners living within the parishes of churches built before 1536 can be held liable for costs.
I wrote about this phenomenon last year:
The Church of England fought an 18-year legal battle against the owners of a farm in Warwickshire, eventually extracting £230,000 from Gail and Andrew Wallbank in 2009. The Church’s case rested entirely on a 16th-century feudal law, long considered dead, which held that certain landowners, no matter their religious beliefs, must help pay for the upkeep of Anglican churches. After the matter was decided, at least a quarter of Anglican dioceses began looking for ways to screw private-property owners in the same manner.
The Guardian explains the scope of the problem:
Chancel repair liability enables approximately 5,200 pre-Reformation Church of England and Church of Wales parishes to demand money from owners of particular properties on former monastery land, to fund repairs to their church buildings.
The BBC article doesn’t say how much money the church is trying to wring out of Hill and Hession, but it can be a fortune, as the Wallbanks’ case shows.
Even if the pair can somehow make the money claim go away, the value of their property will be permanently diminished, says Hession:
“The real issue for us is the total devaluation of our property. No one will buy our houses if we ever wanted to sell because the mention of chancel repair liability has everybody thinking about the Wallbank case.”
An Anglican Church spokesman, the Reverend Greg Yerbury, claims that it’s no big deal:
“People are going to be understandably immensely upset but a reasonable solution usually comes about eventually. There are probably only two examples of ordinary people having to shell out for the repair of a chancel in the past 100 years.”
The “reasonable solution” still does nothing to safeguard property values, though. And it sure is cruel to subject homeowners to the prolonged threat of a huge financial burden, even if the church can somehow be persuaded not to press the issue in the end.
(Image via Shutterstock)