In property law in the UK, the doctrine of notice is a concept by which a
potential purchaser of real property can take free of any equitable interests in that
property; said equitable interests moving from the land to the money or other consideration
that was paid for it.
The doctrine itself stems from the idea of equity's darling - a "bona fide purchaser
for value without notice". If someone who falls into this category of person purchases your
land, then they gain the legal title (ownership at law) of the land and all those people
whose interests in the land is merely equitable (i.e. lodgers, lenders who have an
equitable mortgage secured on the land, holders of easements, etc.) lose all those
interests in the land. This means that the proverbial granny in the attic is out on her
ear, and the person next door who has to walk over your front garden to get to their house no
longer can do that. Understandably, taking free of such interests is quite a drastic step, so
the bar of proof that a potential purchaser is equity's darling is rather high.
Firstly, the purchaser must not have notice of any of the equitable interests in the
land. Being able to satisfy this hurdle is a lot harder than it looks; you cannot just
deliberately fail to inspect the property before buying it. If you do that, a court will
find that you had "constructive notice" of those interests - that is, you will be deemed to
have notice of all interests, charges, easements, and whatnot that you would have known
about had you made a reasonably thorough inspection of the premises. The rationale for this
is, of course, is that if you couldn't be bothered to find out about things like that, then
it's your own lookout. If, however, you made a reasonably thorough inspection of the property
and the previous owner contrived to hide evidence of, say, a lodger from you, and thus you
never found out about said lodger, then you will be considered not to have notice.
Secondly, you must be a purchaser "for value." What this means is that the consideration
one provides to purchase the land must be "valuable" - that is, in economic terms (i.e.
money) and not merely nominal consideration. There are no hard and fast rules for
determining what constitutes valuable and nominal consideration; generally speaking, though,
simply handing over a few pounds to secure a valid contract of sale will not constitute
valuable consideration. Generally speaking, though, this element of the doctrine is very
often judges as part of the test for good faith, which is more a matter of impression than
hard and fast rules. That being said, though, in these instances, any offer made to the
seller which is realistic (i.e. around the property's market value) is generally held to be
This doctrine may not last much longer in English law; with the Land Charges Act
1972 and the Land Registration Act 2002 implementing a more coherent system of land
registration which records all the various charges and interests and other rights held
in and over each piece of land, and the moves towards electronic conveyancing of property,
this doctrine, which only applies to unregistered land, could well be on the way out. That
being said, though, for registered land there is a statutory provision in Schedule 3 of
the above Act which sets out a limited version of the doctrine of notice referring to the
interests of "persons in actual occupation" of the property.