Using your home as a film set – My piece for The Times

Your property as a film location: legal issues

by on 30th October 2014 for The Times

Owners of unusual or historic disused buildings have a chance to cash in, but what should they do to stay protected?

Talk in the village is that the owners of the disused Watlington Station in Oxfordshire were paid more than a million pounds for the use of the land to shoot the new Brad Pitt vehicle, Fury. A somewhat surreal experience, watching tanks being driven down the B4009 and the Second World War happening just across the road.

And it’s not just the English countryside; a lot of filming takes place in more urban surroundings, particularly in London, due to the proximity of so many film production companies. And while you may not earn a million pounds, unless you live in, say, Kensington Palace, good money can be earned from allowing your home to be used in this way.

If you do a Google search, you’ll see that there many location search companies, offering to act as the middleman between you and the film production company, which means that they put your photos on their site and get a fee from the hirer. So far so easy. But as with everything in life, the law has a nasty way of catching you unawares. All sorts of legal issues may arise when you use your home as a business, especially if you do it regularly.

Whatever the type of property, you need to look carefully at the contract between you and the location agent. You may not be happy to have your pictures plastered all over the web. And how secure is their database? Check the termination provisions. But more important is the contract between you and the hirer. Look at the small print. Make sure they have small print. If they don’t, you shouldn’t do it. What about overruns? They say a week but what if it is a month? Can you object or charge a premium? What happens if they damage that very expensive vase? Or if things go missing?

And then you. If you’re renting out regularly, does it become business premises and attract business rates? What about planning permission? Filming is not normally a use ancillary to a residential occupation and it may be argued that you’ve changed the use of your property. There could also be questions of public or private nuisance, as film crews clutter your quiet residential street.

Leaseholders, whether renters or owners of long leaseholds, will have other considerations. Most long leases and rental tenancies will contain a prohibition against using the property for anything other than a residential home and will certainly contain a prohibition on carrying out any activities that might disturb neighbours. An injunction might well find its way to your door. Or a claim for damages. And that could put you in breach with your film company, who will want you to warrant that your property can be used by them lawfully. Unless you check, you won’t know.

And our old friend the taxman will also be there, waiting to pounce on the proceeds of your foray into the world of film. Unless you’re careful, it may turn out to be less Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and more Crown Court, in which you play a starring role.