This topic looks at the content and priority of rights and obligations among people with interests in land.

A licence is a type of right quite distinct from a lease or tenancy. The principle difference is that it grants the person enjoying the licence permission to do something on the owner’s land that would otherwise be a trespass (for example, a railway station adoption group working on Network Rail land will require a licence to work on such land). It does not create or grant any interest in the land to the licensee. If the property is sold to another, the interest under a licence does not pass with it.

A licence is normally created where a person is granted the right to use premises without becoming entitled to an exclusive possession of them. Most commonly, licences operate to allow the property to be used for a specific purpose and for a defined period, for example, one year and then renewable after that time.

A person cannot grant a licence to himself nor to himself jointly with another. It must be granted by an owner of the property who is different from the licensee.

Generally, licences give minimal rights to the licensee, but where the licence is contractual under a contract, the agreement could identify certain rights given to the licensee. A licence may be irrevocable because of the terms of the contract.

In general, licences can be revoked through giving notice of revocation to the licensee and allowing him reasonable time to leave the property.

A licence does not fall within the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (major changes came into force in 2004, notably concerning security of tenure and which tenures are protected), which offers security of tenure to tenants. It could also be of advantage to a tenant who has covenanted not to assign or sublet. In this case, by granting a non-exclusive licence, a tenant would not be breaching the covenant.

English land law has heavy historical and social significance and land is usually seen as the most important part of English property law.

It has at its core the acquisition, content and priority of rights and obligations among people with interests in the land. It must accommodate multiple interests in its ownership rules and often determines whose interests have priority.

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