Adverse Possession in the UK

Did you know that if someone unlawfully resides in another person’s property without their consent for 12 years, they may have the right to apply to be registered as the owner of that property?

Adverse possession is often simply referred to as ‘squatting’, or ‘squatters rights’. It means that one person is occupying land that does not belong to them without permission of the owner.

Once a person has exclusively occupied land without the permission of the owner for a number of years that land may legally become theirs.

Please note: currently, our solicitors can not advice you on claims regarding adverse possession. We have shared this article for informational purposes only.

Adverse Possession in the UK

What is the 12-Year Rule and the 10-Year Rule on Adverse Possession?

A person can seek to acquire the title of ownership of a piece of land or property after having had exclusive possession of a specific area land for a period of 12 continuous years without the consent of the true owner. If the property is registered then that period is reduced to just 10 continuous years, however other factors may apply.

In 2002, the Land Registration Act came into force and reduced the 12-year rule to 10 years when registered land is involved, which is land that has been added to the Land Registry and has an evident sole owner.

Although unregistered property will nearly always have an owner, it is much harder to track them down as they aren’t featured on the Land Registry.

Proving Exclusive Possession

The person claiming adverse possession must first of all be able to prove they had exclusive possession of the property or land for the minimum required timeframe as stated earlier.

If for example the area was fenced of and only accessible to the claimant this would prove exclusive possession. No other person should have access.

It must be proven that the land is not used or accessed by others. If land is used by other people then exclusive possession would not apply and a claim for adverse possession cannot be made.

Can I Claim Adverse Possession of Registered Land?

It’s typically much more difficult to obtain ownership of registered land.

The owner will have had to make the squatter believe that they in fact owned the land, had the right to live there or had the right to use that land as if it were their own for the minimum period of 10 years.

It could be a risky move, as when an application for adverse possession was made and rejected, the true owner has the right to evict the squatter or disallow them to use the land.

If the owner does not evict the squatter and allows them to continue to occupy the property or land for a further two years after their claim was rejected without change, the squatter would be entitled to register as the owner once again.

Mr Best v Chief Land Registrar

Mr Best was a builder and construction worker who came across an abandoned property in 1997, which was in a serious state of disrepair. After learning that the owner had long since passed away and their son had not been seen for years, he proceeded to carry out repair work on the house and later moved in by the end of January 2012.

Despite there being no disputes over the property, and the fact that Mr Best had regarded it as his own home since 2001, he was technically a tress passer.

He later applied for a title of ownership through adverse possession in November 2012, but this was denied on the basis that Mr Best was in breach of an anti-squatting law which came into force two months earlier. Fortunately, Mr Best was successful in appealing the decision and was soon able to claim adverse possession.

Smart v London Borough of Lambeth

This case involved a handful of properties in Clapham, which were acquired by Lambeth London Borough Council in 1971 and consequently left vacant and dilapidated. These vacant properties were soon taken over by squatters, but the Council were aware of this and decided to create a short-term housing association scheme for them.

The residential squatters were members of the scheme, including the predecessor of Mr Smart who had signed a license with the housing association.

Mr Smart himself had not signed any licence or agreement, but later became the sole occupier of one property in 1984. As he had not signed anything for the association or the Council, he believed he would be successful in claiming adverse possession in 1993. Despite Mr Smart and his predecessor living in the property for longer than twelve years, his claim was unsuccessful as the Council knew of his presence and accepted that he was an occupier of the property.

Therefore, Mr Smart’s possession of the property was not ‘adverse’.

Buckinghamshire Council v Moran

Ever since 1971, Mr Moran had been using a section of land as an extension to his garden. This piece of land was purchased by Buckinghamshire Council in 1955, who intended to use it for future road-widening purposes.

The predecessor of Mr Moran also treated the land as his own back in 1967, as it appeared to be unused and unwanted. The Council never intervened during these years, until in 1985 when Mr Moran built his own fence around the land, fitted with a gate and lock.

The Council attempted to sue Mr Moran, but as Mr Moran had secured the land and made his intentions for possession clear, they were unsuccessful. The land had also been left vacant by the Council for much longer than twelve years.

Pursuing a Claim for Adverse Possession

There are many everyday scenarios where claiming for adverse possession may become necessary or beneficial, such as for example in cases where property borders are not clearly documented and defined between neighbouring houses and you or your neighbour are looking to sell the property.

Please note: currently, our solicitors can not advice you on claims regarding adverse possession. We have shared this article for informational purposes only.

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