In some situations, it is possible for someone to gain rights over land if they occupy it for a certain amount of time but do not own it. This is often referred to as ‘adverse possession’ but is perhaps more frequently called ‘squatters’ rights’.
There are numerous ways this can occur in real life. To give a common example, you may have been using part of some land for your own purposes, always believing it to have been yours, and only later find out that you do not actually own the land. Depending on the circumstances, you may gain some ownership rights over the land through occupying it in this way.
Boundary disputes between neighbours may lead to questions of adverse possession arising. One neighbour might reasonably believe that a piece of land belongs to them, even if this is not reflected in title deeds or on the Land Registry plans. And just because a dispute has arisen, this does not automatically mean that their belief is no longer reasonable.
Whether you are looking to know more about your rights to a piece of land, or you need advice on the kind of rights that someone else may have, Truth Legal can help.
Get in touch with us to discuss your situation and receive expert guidance from a specialist property litigation solicitor.
What is adverse possession?
To give a more detailed definition: adverse possession allows an occupier (who is in possession of the land) to acquire rights over that land in certain circumstances, even though they are not the ‘formal’ owner of the land.
Although headlines have been made through squatters taking over ownership from an absent ‘owner-on-paper’, criminal laws against squatters make adverse possession of entire residential properties nearly impossible.
You may wonder why adverse possession even exists in law. Perhaps its most important use is to allow for discrepancies and mistakes relating to land to be corrected in time. Through adverse possession, differences between physical and legal boundary lines gradually become realigned.
Establishing adverse possession
To establish adverse possession, a squatter must be able to demonstrate factual possession of the land, with the necessary intention to possess and without the owner’s consent.
Factual possession is where the occupier has exerted physical control over the land and has been dealing with it as an occupying owner would have been expected to deal with it.
An intention to possess is where the occupier has demonstrated an intention to exclude the world at large, including the “owner on paper.”
In reality, factual possession and an intention to possess are interlinked. An example is a squatter putting up a fence.
Without the owner’s consent is self-explanatory, i.e. the occupier is someone who has no right or permission (either expressly or by implication) to be in possession of the land.
Application for adverse possession
If adverse possession can be established, a squatter can apply to the Land Registry to be registered as the proprietor of the land.
Prior to 12 October 2003 a squatter could acquire title to registered and unregistered land if they had been in adverse possession of the land for a minimum of 12 years. This remains the position where land is unregistered or a squatter had been in adverse possession of registered land for 12 years prior to 12 October 2003.
The rules relating to registered land changed from 13 October 2003 following the introduction of the Land Registration Act 2002. Squatters are now able to apply to be registered as the proprietor of registered land after 10 years’ adverse possession.
If the registered owner of the land opposes a squatter’s application, the application will be rejected unless one of three conditions applies.
The first condition is satisfied where a squatter can establish that the owner of the land encouraged the squatter to believe they owned the land, the squatter acted on that belief to their detriment, the owner of the land was aware of this and it would be “unconscionable” for the owner to deny the squatter the rights that they believed they had. An example is where a squatter has built on land believing it to be their own and the owner has allowed this.
The second condition is satisfied if a squatter can establish that they are entitled to be registered as the proprietor of the land for some other reason. An example is where a squatter entered into a contract to buy land and paid the purchase price, but title has not been formally transferred.
The third condition is satisfied if a squatter has been in adverse possession of land adjacent to their own for at least 10 years under the mistaken belief that they are the owner, the exact boundary line has not been determined and the land was registered more than a year prior to the application. An example is where a boundary wall or fence has been built on a neighbour’s land.
Complexities of adverse possession
The law surrounding adverse possession is very complicated.
A lot depends on the individual circumstances at hand with adverse possession matters. This is why it is vital to seek property litigation advice from an experienced solicitor.
How can Truth Legal help?
Truth Legal can guide you through this tricky area of law. If you entrust your case to our experienced team of solicitors you can be sure that your claim is in safe hands. They have the knowledge and expertise to help you every step of the way.
We pride ourselves on providing an ethical and effective service – helping you to resolve your legal problems through specialist advice and assured handling of your case.
We are based in Harrogate with presences in York, Manchester, and London.
How much will our service cost?
Truth Legal offers affordable fixed fees or hourly rates – allowing you a flexible and cost-effective service. You may also have Legal Expenses Insurance on your home insurance policy allowing some or all of your legal costs to the paid by your home insurance. Alternatively, we also offer crowdfunding for legal cases.
Contact Truth Legal today to explore your options and obtain clear guidance on your legal position.