What is Adverse Possession?

An application for adverse possession enables a third-party non-proprietor to claim a legal right over someone else’s land.  The origins can be traced to medieval England where it was a solution in the absence of written records allowing individuals who openly occupied land continuously for a specified period to claim ownership even if their occupation was initially unlawful.

The Land Registration Act 2002 came into force on 13 October 2003, changing the landscape of adverse possession in relation to registered land. The new requirements are that the applicant must show that they have adversely possessed the land for a minimum of 10 years uninterrupted.

If the land is unregistered, the ‘old regime’ applies, resulting in the applicant having to be able to show that the land has been adversely possessed for a minimum of 12 years uninterrupted.

In either case the Applicant must be able to show uninterrupted factual possession of the land such as:

  • squatting on the land without the owner’s consent;
  • they have the necessary intention to possess the land;
  • that there is a sufficient degree of exclusive physical control over the land.  This will be specific to the land in question and the nature of it.  Broadly the Claimant should be dealing with the land as one might expect an owner occupier to do; and
  • that the period of possession has been continuous and uninterrupted.

There is the ability for the necessary period to accumulate over multiple squatters to provide the totality of the number of years required.

If there are multiple squatters, a statement is taken setting out each of the squatter’s use of the land over what period to bring the total period of possession to more than the required 10 or 12 years.  This is extended to 30 years for Crown land or property which is vested in the Crown or one of the Royal Duchies as ‘bona vacantia’.

The Process

If you believe you may have a claim for adverse possession of registered or unregistered land, the appropriate form and a statement following form ST1 must be lodged with HMLR along with a plan identifying the land being claimed.

In the case of registered land a copy will be served on any registered owner(s) and if there is no objection to the application and the Registrar is satisfied that the Claimant has sufficiently evidenced their right the land will be registered with a possessory title which may be converted to absolute title in time.

Someone is squatting on my land

If you become aware that someone is squatting on your land and thus may be able to make a claim for adverse possession, either now or in the future, it is important to act immediately to take steps to end their possession.

A period of adverse possession can be ended by a signed, written acknowledgment of the paper owner’s title by the squatter as can a written offer by the squatter to purchase the land from the paper owner. If there is a change in the relationship between the squatter and owner, such as by the granting of a licence or lease, this will bring the opportunity to claim adverse possession to an end.  If the squatter remains in possession after an acknowledgment, time may start running again if steps are not taken to end possession.

For any advice related to Adverse Possession or any issues regarding property disputes do not hesitate to contact me on caroline.knowles-ley@cognitivelaw.co.uk or call on 01243 943203.

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