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How to use a grandfather clause

A grandfather clause -- also called grandfather rights -- is a provision in a new law that allows a person to do or own something that was legal under an old law but is illegal under the new one. Older buildings may be exempt from new planning rules, for example. Individuals who qualified into professions, or for vehicle licences, may continue working or driving under new, more stringent regulations. However, the new rules may also phase out or revoke grandfather clauses.

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  1. Study all existing local planning regulations if you are buying property or a business. Homes in the neighbourhood where you wish to buy a new house may have large new extensions, garages or conservatories. New planning regulations may have banned such additional buildings on residential properties. The older constructions will remain legal but you will not be able to build in the same way.

  2. Check for any preservation orders on older buildings on the property you wish to buy. Local planning regulations may stipulate that even if an old construction such as a 130-year-old railway carriage is in a state of disrepair, it cannot be moved because it has been in place for so long that is has acquired “grandfather rights.” Investigate if an unprotected old building that you may wish to preserve could be granted “grandfather rights.”

  3. Apply for a licence under new local regulations concerning sales of alcohol if you run a business where liquor is sold and/or consumed on your premises. Changes in alcohol licensing regulation always include a grandfather clause that permits existing licence holders to transfer to the new system without the need to prove that they do not have a criminal record. The old licence holder is deemed a fit person to sell liquor under the new system.

  4. Read carefully through the new regulations to see if you may need some extra training or have to pass some new examinations to qualify as a trade practitioner under the incoming system. New health and safety rules for the construction industry in Britain abolished grandfather rights and required all scaffolding operatives to qualify under new rules. Grandfather rights may only provide restricted access to new driving licences. Professional organisations such as those governing doctors or architects require a regular re-validation of the ability to practice. Existing practitioners may have been given grandfather rights to move to a new accreditation system without undergoing any tests but such provisions are usually temporary.

  5. Tip

    Seek legal advice if you are in doubt about your position under any new regulations.


    Be aware that changes in environmental regulations usually abolish any existing grandfather clauses. In Britain, waste disposal and demolition contractors will have to pre-qualify as technically competent under new regulations or their businesses could be shut down. New rules concerning the preservation of fisheries may abolish grandfather rights on near-shore fishing for existing trawlers.

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About the Author

Based in London, Maria Kielmas worked in earthquake engineering and international petroleum exploration before entering journalism in 1986. She has written for the "Financial Times," "Barron's," "Christian Science Monitor," and "Rheinischer Merkur" as well as specialist publications on the energy and financial industries and the European, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American regions. She has a Bachelor of Science in physics and geology from Manchester University and a Master of Science in marine geotechnics from the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences.

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