With effect from June of this year, local communities shall have a new right to buy abandoned or neglected property and without the agreement of the existing owner, provided that the Scottish Ministers approve their application. This new right to buy should not be confused with the existing community right to buy under the Land Reform Act 2003 – the new right implemented by the Community Empowerment Act does not require the property to first be marketed, i.e., the right can be exercised at any time, upon application to the Scottish Ministers.
The idea behind the legislation is to bring derelict property into productive use, so the existing owner will have a say during the application process, if they can show that they intend in the future to develop or otherwise make use of the property. If the application is decided in favour of the community body, a price based upon the market value of the land must be paid, as determined by a valuation expert appointed by the Scottish Ministers.
There are, however, certain restrictions and qualifications to this new right to buy. Firstly, certain categories of land are explicitly excluded, the most important being land (including ancillary land) in residential use. Secondly, the right may only be exercised by a community, defined as a body comprised of at least 10 members, 75 % of which must be members of the community in which the land being purchased is situated. The land itself must also be neglected or abandoned land, defined by reference to the physical condition of the land and its effect on the environment.
As mentioned above, application to the Scottish Ministers must be made by the community body, who must send a copy of the application to the owner and to any lender with an interest in the land. The community body must show that the purchase will be in the public interest and give details of the intended use of the property.
From the point of view of buyers generally, it will be necessary to ensure that any property being purchased is not subject to such an application, which can be carried out by way of search in a new register called the Register of Applications by Community Bodies to Buy Land.