What is adverse possession of registered land?
Adverse possession is often simply referred to as ‘squatting’. It means that one person is occupying land that does not belong to them without permission of the owner. The person occupying the land is then known as the ‘squatter’.
Once a person has exclusively occupied land without the permission of the owner for a number of years, under UK law that land may legally become theirs.
The Land Registration Act 2002 and Limitation Act 1980
Before the Land Registration Act 2002, under the Limitation Act 1980, a squatter could claim for adverse possession of registered land purely on the basis of having occupied that land for a period over 12 years.
After the introduction of the Land Registration Act 2002, that 12-year period was reduced to 10 years. However, the 2002 Act has made is more likely that the registered proprietor – the registered owner of the land – can oppose and prevent applications for adverse possession of their registered land.
In overview, in regard to registered land, the Land Registration Act 2002 has outlined that:
- The 12-year minimum adverse possession period has been shortened to 10 years
- On application of adverse possession, the registered proprietor and other parties interested in the land will need to be notified and given the opportunity to oppose the adverse possession application of their registered land
- The adverse possession of registered land for the minimum qualifying period is no longer enough to claim to become the registered proprietor, and that the application can now be opposed by the current registered proprietor
- The current registered proprietor is given the option to object by serving a counter notice to the adverse possession claim, or can object to the adverse possession application on grounds that the 10-year minimum period requirement has not been met
If the registered proprietor does not object to your adverse possession application, you will be registered as proprietor of the land in their stead.
Can you still claim adverse possession of registered land if the claim is opposed?
If the registered proprietor objects to your application, you can only be successful in your application if you have proven that one of the following three conditions applies to your situation:
- It would be unreasonable to reject your application as you were;
- In some way encouraged by the registered proprietor that you were the genuine owner of the land, and
- That in this belief, you acted to your own detriment – for example by building property on the land, and
- That therefore is would be unconscionable for the proprietor to deny you the rights you believed you had, or
- You have been in adverse possession of the land that is adjacent to your own, and you were under the mistaken but reasonable belief that you were the owner of this land. This could be the case if the boundary between your land and the adjacent land was not clearly determined, for example where boundaries or fences were erected in the wrong place, or
- You have another reason by which you are entitled to be the proprietor of the land, for example if you are entitled to the land under the will or intestacy of the deceased registered proprietor, or if you had purchased the land and paid the price, but the legal estate was never transferred to you
Reapplying for adverse possession if the initial application is rejected
If your application is rejected, yet you remain in adverse possession of the land for another 2 years, then you could be likely to reapply. There are certain exceptions to this, however in general if this happens you then become the registered proprietor, whether someone objects to your application or not.
The exceptions to the above, is where you are:
- The defendant in proceedings for possession
- A judgement for possession has been given against you during this time period
- You have been served with eviction during this time period
If you were in adverse possession of registered land before 2003
If you were in adverse possession of registered land for the requisite limitation period under the Limitation Act 1980 – 12 years – and you have as a result met the requirements for adverse possession before 13th October 2003, you can likely also claim for adverse possession. Exceptions for this include if the land was owned by the Crown, the church, it was held in a trust or owned by a person with a disability.
If title plans show incorrect property boundaries
In the UK, most registered titles only show the general position of the property’s boundaries with red lines on the title plan. Because of this, it is possible for an area to be within the registered title, even though it’s outside of the red lines of the title plan. The opposite is also possible, with land being within the red lines on the title plan, however not included in the registered title.
If it comes to light that you in fact have the documentary title to the land, then instead of adverse possession we can help you apply for an alteration to your, or your neighbour’s title plan to allow for the boundaries to be shown more appropriately.
What you can expect when we submit your adverse possession application
After we have submitted your application HM Land Registry will organise for an inspection of the land. Both you and the registered proprietor will be notified beforehand.
After the inspection HM Land Registry will further assess your application, bearing in mind case law on adverse possession, before giving notice of the application to:
- The registered proprietor of the land
- The registered proprietor of any registered charge on the estate
- The Treasury Solicitor or the relevant Duchy (if the proprietor is a company that has been dissolved)
- The registered proprietor of any superior registered estate (in case of leaseholds)
- Any person who has registered to be notified under Schedule 6 of the Land Registration Act 2002
These parties may, within 65 business days, consent to the application, object to the application or give counter notice. They may also object to the application and give counter notice simultaneously. Any objection from the proprietor or other interested party must be in any case be in writing.
If no response is received your application will be successful and you will be registered as the proprietor of the land.
What happens is a party objects or gives counter notice to the adverse possession application?
If an objection is received, and the registrar decides that the objection is not groundless, you and your solicitor will receive notice of the objection.
If an objection is received you will be given the option to negotiate with the objecting party, to see if an amicable agreement can be reached. If no such agreement can be reached the matter will be referred to tribunal.
It is important your adverse possession application is submitted correctly, as if a counter notice is received and you have not stated on your initial application that you are meeting one of the three conditions as outlined above, your application will automatically be rejected.
If you have submitted evidence to meeting one of the three conditions as outlined above and yet you have received a counter notice, HM Land Registry will assess the arguments in your application as well as the evidence we have provided.
If they believe you do not meet one of the three conditions your application will at this stage likely be rejected.
If they believe you do meet one of the listed conditions, they will contact the party that submitted the counter notice. They have the opportunity to dispute that you have in fact met one of the three conditions, and they are given the opportunity to object on this ground. If they do further object, the matter will be referred to the tribunal. If their arguments are believed groundless, or if they do not further object your adverse possession of registered land application will be successful.
Pursuing a claim for adverse possession of registered land with AWH
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.
If you believe you may be able to claim adverse possession then get in touch, our residential conveyancing team can offer expert advice and support with your UK adverse possession claim.
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