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Hello and thank you for your question. I will be very pleased to assist you. I'm a practicing lawyer in England with over 10 years experience.
For the avoidance of any doubt the club accepts from what you say that it has used the field with the consent of the landlord. Is this correct please?
Yes but there are committee members who believe that our use of the field is a right because of an old legal covenant of some kind which stipulated that the field could only be used for sporting purposes. This covenant reputedly dates back decades to when the brewery acquired the field. However the existence of this covenant has never been investigated and remains hearsay. Sorry it is so complicated!
On the facts you outline here, they would tend to preclude the establishment of any legal easement on a prescriptive basis through long use. In order to establish a prescriptive right you need to demonstrate as a club use for 20 years or more continuously without secrecy or permission of the owner. From what you say you have had use from 1996 without a lease which is short of 20 years and in addition have had use with the permission of the landlord.
A similar position is true in respect of an application for registration as a Village Green
A covenant would not in and of itself give rise to a right. A covenant not to use the field other than for the sporting use or such like could potentially still be enforceable but the covenant if it were enforceable would be enforceable by the owner of the land to which the covenant attaches. It cannot be enforced by members of the public at large.
The club may have the benefit of a right granted by the owner to use the field but this would need to be evidenced by deed which I assume does not exist.
Finally if the landlord advised that the club could use the field for a minimum period of time then it is possible that the club could seek to hold him to this representation by means of estoppel but again there would need to be substantive evidence to support anything the landlord is claimed to have said.
On the facts as you state them there is no obvious approach to sustain use of the field unfortunately. Perhaps understandably it is not straightforward or easy to claim land as ones own other than in limited circumstances which would not seem to fit those in question.
If one of the committee members seems to think that the club is the beneficiary of some form of historical right though this would be worth investigating by reference initially to the title deeds for the field which can be obtained from the land Registry if you do not already have them
Is there anything above I can clarify for you any further?
Does the above answer all your questions or is there anything I can clarify or help with any further?
A layman's comment but i guess I was assuming that we might be able to demonstrate some kind of de facto tenancy, even though no rental has been paid, thereby giving us some kind of rights as tenants. We can argue for example that we have maintained the field at our cost in lieu of rent. Naive of me perhaps?
One other practical point-if the position is as bleak as suggested, can the landlord in effect throw us off the field without us having any legal recourse, as for example a formal tenant might?
Unfortunately a tenancy requires possession and rent and these facts to not present grounds for claiming a tenancy I fear.
Maintaining the field would not constitute evidence of payment of rent as substitute unfortunately.
The landlord cannot just simply kick you off the land with no notice but unless you can establish a right to remain as we have discussed above, the landlords responsibilities are relatively limited as follows:
The owner must give you reasonable notice to leave in writing. This does not need to be more than a reasonable number of days but given your length of tenure you could seek a longer period potentially but it is unlikely to be more than a month or so. If the club had not vacated the land the landlord can seek a possession order in the court and then appoint bailiffs to require you to leave. This process may take 1-2 months.
I do not necessarily say the position is bleak. However based on the facts as you state them the club would need to find some evidence of a promise or formal right granted in order to sustain their tenure on the land