Understanding Jersey Property

By Tony del Amo

Posted: 29th March 2012 12:37

Le Gallais & Luce traces its heritage back to the last years of the 19th century, making it almost certainly the oldest law firm in Jersey.  However, in order to survive, it has always ensured that its staff is on the cutting edge of changes to the law and the legal system.

Today, approximately half of its turnover derives from property law transactions and, although a large part of that turnover involves residential purchases and sales, the firm advises on significant commercial transactions as well.  These include commercial and residential developments, the acquisition and sales of commercial buildings and associated leasing structures.

Two of the firm’s partners specialise in property law and the consultants at the firm have a combined experience in excess of 90 years.  The four full time members of the conveyancing department itself have in excess of 100 years experience in dealing with property matters.

Jersey land law is based upon Norman customary law and until recently all contracts relating to freehold and leasehold property were written in the French language.  The biggest change in the area of property law in Jersey in recent years came about in 2006 with the change to contracts being drafted in the English language rather than the French language.  This reflected the need for contracts to be more readily understood by the public, the majority of which are now English speaking rather than French.  In practising Jersey land law however it is still important that a good knowledge of French is retained as, in checking title to a property, it is necessary to consider previous contracts which, up to 2006 would have been written in the French language. This is the challenge for the new generation of conveyancers and property lawyers – in order to maintain standards in drafting and advising upon the law it will still be essential to maintain a good grasp of the French language.

Contracts for the transfer of real property are still passed formally before the Royal Court of Jersey which sits (subject to Public Holidays) to pass such contracts every Friday at 2.30pm.  The purchasers and vendors of properties as well as lessors and lessees of properties where the lease is in excess of nine years together with any parties to the contracts are required to attend either in person or by representation to swear the oath under which the title to the property passes or the term of the lease is granted.  This is an unusual requirement for passing contracts dealing with real property in the modern world and is probably unique to the Island.

At Le Gallais & Luce we have been fortunate, not only in our traditional local client base which has continued to transact notwithstanding the economic downturn, but also in the way we have built relations with other property professionals in a difficult economic climate and in that way have maintained and even increased the level of our property work over the last few years.  Whilst the financial constraints placed upon clients, for example the issues with bank lending and the availability of mortgages, has inevitably caused a certain contraction in property transactions generally, we have managed to continue to be competitive in terms of price, whilst always seeking to retain the levels of service for which we have been renowned for some considerable time.

Whilst the overall situation has been steady over the last few years we are hoping that we will continue to undertake high volumes of transactions and increase our market share by continuing to provide the services for which we have earned a solid and reliable reputation and to build further relationships with our property professionals and contacts.

I believe that the overall feeling within the property law community is that there will be a continuing reduction in the overall volume of transactions although the developers continue to introduce new properties to the market which might cause a glut of certain types of property, mainly apartments.  As a result this is a time of great opportunity for investors seeking to acquire high quality investment properties on a buy to let basis, although those persons outside the Island seeking to invest will need to consider carefully the types of property available to them due to local Housing Laws.  Whilst the number of properties available should lead to a reduction in property prices, the last few years have not necessarily indicated that there has been any substantial reduction.

We, however, continue to be optimistic that, if more assistance to the public comes from the major lenders, which has generally been the case in regard to smaller lending institutions, some stimulation in the property market will be achieved.  Some of the clearing banks however, perhaps as a result of the criticisms levelled at them following the recent economic crisis, seem reluctant to re-enter the market at realistic levels. It is my belief that this could be generally beneficial to the property market and indeed to them in terms of an increase in overall production of wealth and boost in economic growth.

 

Background to the firm:

The firm’s roots can be traced through a Mr Le Gallais who had practiced from 6, Hill Street since qualifying in 1889 and, prior to that, through Mr P Guiton who had practiced as a solicitor from the same premises since the 1870’s.

During the period from 1901 until 1972 the firm provided three Crown Solicitors for Jersey and, as such, represented the Crown as well as the Island’s government and administration for a total of 48 years.  This came to an end in 1972 when the States of Jersey established a civil service department for this purpose.

Le Gallais & Luce are rightfully proud of their heritage and strive to retain the traditional values of client care and professionalism in everything they do.

Tony Del Amo can be contacted at: tdelamo@lgl.je

 


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