Adverse possession occurs when a person who is not legally entitled to a parcel of land occupies it. If adverse occupation is not challenged for a specific amount of time (referred to as the ‘limitation period’), a squatter can acquire legal ownership of the land without paying compensation.
To acquire title through adverse possession, a squatter must hold the following:
- Factual possession of the land
- A desire to possess the land exclusively. This also includes the legal owner being excluded. However, a person who mistakenly believes they are a tenant may occupy and acquire possession of a property in the same manner as a squatter, without having to demonstrate an intent to exclude the legitimate owner.
- The possession must be ‘adverse’, ie without legal entitlement or without the owner’s consent.
In this article, how to stop adverse possession UK, we take a look at the process involved.
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What is adverse possession In the UK?
Adverse possession is a legal notion outlined by UK law that applies when a person trespassing on another’s property can apply to obtain title to it. If certain common law and legislative standards are met and the “adverse possessor” has been in possession of the land for a sufficient period of time, an application may be made (usually 10 or 12 years).
Although adverse possession may look unjust at first glance, it is a vital legal process that ensures certainty on the title and usage of land. It is not regarded onerous for landowners – who are not themselves in occupancy – to check on their property and guarantee that no illegal person has occupied it during a ten or twelve-year period.
The requisite periods of adverse possession are different depending on whether the land is registered or unregistered.
There are two sets of rules that determine when an adverse possession application may be successful: the rules that came into force with the Land Registration Act 2002 (the “Post-2002 Rules”) and the rules that preceded them (and continue to apply in relation to unregistered land) (the “Pre-2002 Rules”).
The Rules in Effect Prior to 2002
A squatter may apply to be registered as an owner if they have had exclusive adverse possession of the land for 12 years. However, this is only applicable presently in the following circumstances:
- The land is unregistered; or
- The land is registered, and the time of possession invoked expires on or before October 13, 2003.
The Post-2002 amendments significantly complicate the process of bringing a claim. A squatter must establish that he or she (or their forebears) has occupied the subject land for a period of at least ten years.
However, the landowner may object and demand the squatter to meet one of the Land Registration Act 2002’s three standards. These include the following:
- Estoppel: that it would be unjust (‘unconscionable’) for the squatter to be evicted and that the circumstances warrant the squatter being registered as proprietor – while this may sound like an easy test for a squatter to meet, it is actually quite a narrow test that is rarely relied upon in practise;
- Some other claim to the land: the squatter can demonstrate that they are entitled to be recognised as the land’s owner for some other reason – this is likewise a very unusual occurrence in practise and is difficult to discern; and
- Reasonable error about the boundary: the squatter owns nearby land and reasonably believes they own the relevant land.
In practise, it is this third requirement that would-be claimants most frequently rely on in order to prove their claim to the land.
How to stop adverse possession
While the Post-2002 Rules make it more difficult for squatters to acquire land, it can be a stressful experience if you find yourself dealing with this problem. Below is a list of tips you can employ to help avoid adverse possession:
Inspect your sites on a regular basis to ensure there has been no trespass. Maintain thorough records of those inspections; ascertain the date of the initial incursion. Contact previous owners and consult with neighbouring landowners if necessary. Consider ordering vintage aerial images (although bear in mind that they are of limited use because they only depict a snapshot at a specific point and time).
If you discover that someone has encroached on your property, take immediate action to get them removed. This may entail contacting them in writing and/or initiating possession procedures.
If there is disagreement over the properties’ boundaries, consider obtaining a boundary surveyor’s report.
How we can help
We have a proven track record of dealing with adverse possession claims. We will guide you through the process and ensure all checks are carried out swiftly and efficiently and we firmly believe that with the right solicitors by your side, the entire process will seem more manageable and far less daunting.
How to Contact Our Property Litigation Solicitors
It is important for you to be well informed about the issues and possible implications of an adverse possession claim. However, expert legal support is crucial in terms of ensuring a positive outcome to your case.
To speak to our Property Litigation solicitors today, simply call us on 0345 901 0445, or click here to make a free enquiry. We are well known across the country and can assist wherever you are based. We also have offices based in Cheshire and London.