As a legal term, ground rent specifically refers to regular payments made by a holder of a leasehold property to the freeholder or a superior leaseholder, as required under a lease. In this sense, a ground rent is created when a freehold piece of land is sold on a long lease or leases. The ground rent provides an income for the landowner. In economics, ground rent is a form of economic rent meaning all value accruing to titleholders as a result of the exclusive ownership of title privilege to location.
In Roman law, ground rent (solarium) was an annual rent payable by the lessee of a superficies (a piece of land), or perpetual lease of building land. In early Norman England, tenants could lease their title to land so that the land-owning lords did not have any power over the sub-tenant to collect taxes. In 1290 King Edward I passed the Statute of Quia Emptores that prevented tenants from leasing their lands to others through subinfeudation. This created a system of substitution, where the tenant's full interest would be transferred to the purchaser or donee, who would pay a rentcharge. This system later passed into common law in England and was adopted by many nations which trace their legal heritage to Britain.
The value of the freehold interest comprises:
- A multiple of the current annual ground rent payable, which will depend on
- the outstanding term of the lease
- any future scheduled increases in the level of ground rent
- market interest rates
- the probability of default
- if the rents for individual flats etc. are small, the cost of collection
- The net present value of the reversion, i.e. at the end of the lease the freeholder (to whom the rent is paid) will probably be fully entitled to the property, so the shorter the lease the greater the reversion value.
- Any attributable "marriage value" (a substantial sum designed to compensate freeholders for their loss of interest when a lease with less than 80 years to run is extended).
In economics, ground rent means all economic value accruing to owners of land, regardless of whether payments are explicitly made or the rents are imputed. Various assessment methodologies are employed by real estate appraisers.
In the United Kingdom, the rights of residential tenants of property subject to a long lease at a ground rent are governed by the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 for houses and the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 for flats.
England and Wales
In English law, it appears that the term "ground rent" was at one time popularly used for the houses and lands out of which ground rents issue, as well as for the rents themselves. Lord Eldon observed in 1815 that the context in which the term occurred may materially vary its meaning.
The contemporary accepted meaning of ground rent is the rent at which land is let for the purpose of improvement by building: i.e. a rent charged in respect of the land only, and not in respect of the buildings to be placed thereon. It is therefore usually lower than the rent that might be achieved for a building let on the open market, and is let for a longer term — at least 21 years, but more commonly 99 years, 125 years, or even 999 years.
Inflation has eroded the value of ground rents on properties prior to 2003 often with long leases and non-rising incomes, so their value is often now small where there is no prospect of a reversion (when the ownership of the property reverts to the freeholder) within say 150 years. However developers are now exploiting ground rents on new builds, and even selling houses as leasehold to profit from the ground rent, that can be as onerous as the council tax.
The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 and The Landlord and Tenant (Notice of Rent) (England) Regulations 2004 now govern the form of notice that needs to be issued to collect ground rent. Previously there had been a problem with some landlords sending confusing or dishonest demands for payments to tenants.
Under the terms of a lease agreement, the freeholder (the outright owner of the land or property) grants permission for a leaseholder to take ownership of the property for a specified period of time. This could range from 21 years to 999 years, and during this time, the leaseholder will pay ground rent to the freeholder. Freeholders lease property primarily for the initial premium paid by the original leaseholder for granting the lease; but in addition ground rent (often a token amount) will be payable over a long term, and this may be an attractive fixed income investment for some types of investor. The final sanction available to a landlord faced with a leaseholder in breach of the lease due to the failure to pay the service charges, ground rent or administration charges, is to forfeit the lease and to repossess the house or flat. To do this the landlord must first serve a valid notice under section 146 of the Law of Property Act 1925 - the Notice of Seeking Possession. However, the landlord cannot serve a section 146 notice where the amount of service charges, administration charges or ground rent owed (or a combination of all of these) unless the unpaid amount is more than £350 or consists of, or includes, an amount that has been outstanding for more than three years.
There are a number of companies which specialise in buying ground rents for long term investment from landlords who want to sell their ground rents. Normally they focus on purchasing reversionary ground rents, either for initial income or for the opportunity of a reversion of the underlying property at some point in the future. The value of ground rents is affected by the rent review pattern on future income increases, the value of the underlying property, the unexpired lease length and whether marriage value is applicable.
Prior to selling ground rents, there is a statutory obligation incumbent on both parties that Section V notices are served on the long leaseholders. This gives them a two-month period within which to respond. Upon expiry of the notice, a transaction can proceed at the price stated on the notice or higher (but not lower) for up to 12 months subsequently. The only way this can be avoided is for exchange of contracts on the sale of the ground rent of flats to have taken place prior to 50% of the flats being sold. This then allows completion upon sale of the last flats without the need for Section V notices.
Before 2003 the Land Registry recorded the ground rent, and the rent is evident from the entry that can be requested from the website. From 13 October 2003 the Land Registry changed its procedures, and there is no longer any provision for entering the rent on the register.
In the past, ground rent was usually not onerous, at typically around £100 per year, and often freeholders would not request payment. But in the 2010s, developers and builders are often issuing leases for new residential units with ground rents as high as £1000 per annum, with escalation clauses doubling the rent every 5 or 10 years. This can result in subsequent mortgage refusals, and make the property unsellable.
Leaseholders have a right after 2 years to extend the lease and reduce ground rent to "peppercorn" or zero, but developers have responded with 999 year leases that make the valuation - based on the ground rent and term - beyond the reach of leaseholders, and sell the freehold - often before the development is finished - to exploitative offshore companies.
The English "ground rent scandal" has been widely reported in the press. In 2016 MP Peter Bottomley described the scandal of ground rents as "legalised extortion". In response to questions raised by the MP communities secretary Sajid Javid said: “We must make sure the kind of abuses he mentioned are stamped out and we will continue to do everything [we can]. We do work with a number of stakeholders and we can certainly see how we can do more.” 
In June 2018 the UK government announced that leasehold tenure would be reformed, with new long leases having zero ground rent.
In Scots law, the term ground rent is not employed, but its place is taken, for practical purposes, by the ground annual, which bears a double meaning:
- At the time of the Reformation in Scotland, the lands of the Church were parcelled out by the crown into various lordships, the grantees being called "Lords of Erection". In the 17th century these Lords of Erection resigned their superiorities to the crown, with the exception of the feu-duties, which were to be retained till a price agreed upon for their redemption had been paid. This reserved power of redemption was, however, resigned by the crown on the eve of the Union and the feu-duties became payable in perpetuity to the Lords of Erection as a ground annual.
- Speculators in building ground usually grant sub-feus to builders at a high feu-duty. But where sub-feus are prohibited — they might have been prior to the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1874 — and there is much demand for building ground, the feuars frequently stipulate that the builder pay an annual rent rather than purchase the land outright. This annual rent is called a ground annual. Interest is not due on arrears of ground annuals and, like other real burdens, ground annuals may now be freely assigned and conveyed.
Feu duty in Scotland was ended by the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000.
Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland ground rents have been a feature of urban life. While most tenancy reform legislation has been enacted for agricultural land (see Irish Land Acts), urban occupiers / tenants have been allowed to "buy out" their ground rents from landlords, and so effectively change a long lease into a freehold interest, most recently under Acts of 1978 and 2005. Notably, ground rents in Castlebar, County Mayo have been withheld following the controversial disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974.
Ground leases (erfpachten) are common in the Netherlands. However most Dutch municipalities (including Rotterdam, Den Bosch, Eindhoven, Haarlem and Maastricht) are currently abandoning the system, and offering householders the right to buy their plot of land. However a number, including Amsterdam, are retaining ground leases, which ease comprehensive redevelopment, prevent land speculation and mean that the entire community benefits from any increase in value of the land.
- On 1 July 2016 Amsterdam introduced the option of permanent ground leases as well as temporary and continuous ground leases. Householders had until 8 January 2020 to apply under advantageous terms to convert their ground lease to a perpetual basis, which means that it will indexed to inflation and will not rise unpredictably at the end of each term.
- Diemen, Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, Utrecht and Vlaardingen (new rules in 2013) are also retaining ground rent.
- The Hague introduced a new system of leasehold and ownership on 1 April 2008. Householders can purchase their land at 5% of 55% of the value of built-up land to convert their perpetual leasehold into ownership. For larger office buildings and industrial buildings over 100 m² and areas that do not yet have a current use, the ground lease remains in force.
- In the province of Groningen a variant survives in which there is an everlasting right of leasehold, the beklemrecht (right of oppression).
Law and mortgages
In the Netherlands, ground lease is regulated by Title 7 of Book 5 of the Dutch Civil Code.
In many cases, long-term leaseholds become qualified indexed loans, creating tax benefits.
Since 2010, banks have been applying stricter rules when providing mortgages on residential leasehold properties. Only new indefinite leases issued from 1 January 2013 are still eligible for a mortgage. These contracts must comply with the "Banking Directive on financing lease rights" of the Dutch Banking Association. Fixed-term contracts, for example 30 or 49 years, are excluded, while existing fixed-term contracts issued before 1 January 2013 are eligible for mortgage financing, provided the conditions meet the eligibility criteria of the Dutch Banking Association. Banks have decided to do this because they fear that the landowner will implement substantial increases, which will lead to payment problems for the leaseholder. Owners of leasehold properties wishing to sell their house are increasingly confronted with this restriction. The house appears to be unsaleable in many cases because new prospective buyers cannot get the financing.
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The term ground rent is applied in many U.S. states to a kind of tenure created by a grant in fee simple, the grantor reserving to himself and his heirs a certain rent, which is the interest in the money value of the land.
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The State of Maryland maintains provisions for ground rents, primarily in the Baltimore area. The practice dates back to the seventeenth century, when lesserlords and serfs paid crops and livestock to feudal lords to rent the lord's land. With ground rent, homeowners only own the building itself, but they must pay a small amount to rent the land itself from its owner. Under Maryland law, if ground rent is not paid on time, the ground owner can go to court and have a lien placed against the house, effectively seizing the home from the homeowner over a relatively small amount due, sometimes as little as $24. This occurred almost 4,000 times in Baltimore City from 2000 to 2005. In addition, properties with ground rent are usually valued about $10,000 less than comparable properties without ground rent.
In 2007, an emergency bill was presented by Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to completely ban new ground rents and prevent ground owners from seizing houses from delinquent homeowners. The bill was passed by the legislature. Maryland state law required all ground owners to register the ownership of the land with the state by September 2008 or else the ground ownership is automatically extinguished. As of 2008, there were about 85,000 in Maryland. The new laws were contested in court for some ground owners, who called it an unconstitutional taking of property without fair compensation. In 2011, the law was ruled unconstitutional by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to the extent that it purported to extinguish property rights of leaseholders. New ground rent leases can no longer be created after January 22, 2007, and ground rent owners must register their leases with the State Department of Assessments in order to collect rents or file a lien for unpaid rents (although failure to register no longer risks extinguishment of the property right).
More than a hundred condominium and co-op buildings exist on leased land in New York City, including notable high-rises like Trump Plaza and The Stanhope. Many date to the 1960s and 1970s, before the city became one of the world's most expensive real estate markets.
Apartments in land-lease buildings tend to cost "25... to 40 percent" less than comparable units in buildings on owned land, according to one New York City property broker, but their "perceived risk" may cause difficulty selling or financing them. Monthly costs include rent payments for the land, so they are significantly higher than fees in an owned building, and can rise sharply and unexpectedly if the land's value is reassessed during a real estate boom. Theoretically, the expiration of a land lease could even turn shareholders/owners to tenants and render their investments worthless.
Ground rents in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are considered real estate and, in cases of intestacy, go to the heirs. They are rent services and not rent charges,[clarification needed] the statute Quia Emptores never having been in force in Pennsylvania, and are subject to all the incidents of such rents. The grantee of a ground rent may mortgage, sell, or otherwise dispose of the grant as he pleases, and while the rent is paid the land cannot be sold or the value of the improvements lost. The owner of land can occupy it, or can improve it and sell the improvements (such as structures), while retaining title to the land, and charge the buyer ground rent.
A ground rent being a freehold estate, created by deed, and perpetual in duration, no presumption that it had been released could, at common law, arise from lapse of time. However, by statute (Act of 27 April 1855, s. 7), a presumption of release or extinguishment is created where no payment, claim, or demand has been made for the rent, nor any declaration or acknowledgment of its existence made or given by the owner of the premises subject to it, for a period of twenty-one years. Ground rents were formerly irredeemable after a certain time, but the creation of irredeemable ground rents is now forbidden (Pennsylvania Act 7 Assembly, 22 April 1850).
The Commonwealth of Virginia permits residential ground rents, which are defined by statute:
"Residential ground rent" means a rent or charge paid for the use of land, whether or not title thereto is transferred to the user, or a lease of land, for personal residential purposes, (i) which is assignable by the obligor without the obligee's consent, (ii) which is for a term in excess of fifteen years, including any rights of renewal at the option of the obligor, (iii) where the obligor has a present or future right to terminate such ground rent and to acquire the entire interest of the obligee in the land by the payment of a determined or determinable amount, and (iv) where the obligee's interest in the land is primarily a security interest to protect his right to be paid the rent or charge.
Code of Virginia § 55-79.01.B. (The obligor is the party obliged to pay, and the obligee the party entitled to receive, the ground rent.) The amount of a ground rent may be changed by either party once every five years, but, unless the parties agree otherwise, the amount of such a change may be no greater than the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index (or other standard prescribed by statute) during the previous three years. A ground rent constitutes a lien against the real estate. The terms of the ground rent agreement may be incorporated into the deed or other instrument of transfer, according to a statutory form.
- see Department for Communities and Local Government
- www.landlordzone: Ground rents
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Muskin v. State Department of Assessments and Taxation, No. 140, Sept. Term 2010 (filed 25 Oct. 2011) (Judges HARRELL, Battaglia, Greene, Murphy & Barbera) (Judges Bell & Adkins dissenting)
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Renton, Alexander Wood (1911). "Ground Rent". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 625–626.
- UK Rentcharges Act 1977 at propertylawuk.net
- The Leasehold Advisory Service UK: Service charges and other issues
- Help with Services Charges, Administration Fees and Ground Rent
- "Ground Rents - An explanation" from LandlordZONE
- Special Baltimore Sun Series on Ground Rent and Changes Prompted by the Series in Baltimore City
- Apportioning ground rents on leasehold houses
- Leasehold Reform Act 1967
- Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993
- Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002
- Ground Rent Investments