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Adverse possession and squatter's rights
Adverse possession, colloquially described as “squatter's rights” is the term used to describe a claim to ownership of land arising not from a deed in favour of the applicant but from actual occupation of the land. Obviously it would not be fair or practical to allow a person to claim ownership merely by entering onto the land and so strict rules have been developed in an attempt to balance the interests of land owners with the interests of the general public.
In order to make a successful claim for adverse possession, the applicant must satisfy certain requirements, including:
- having been in factual possession of the land for the requisite limitation period. Where the land is registered at Land Registry, a claim can be made after ten years’ of occupation though the registered proprietor will be notified and can usually defeat the claim by objecting**. Where the land is unregistered, the right to claim will arise after 12 years’ of uninterrupted occupation
- have the necessary intention to possess
- been in possession without the paper title owner’s consent (and been so for the requisite limitation period)
** where the right to claim possession arose prior to the commencement of the Land Registration Act 2002 (on 13 October 2003), the applicant can claim under either the old or the new regime.
There are circumstances in which a longer period is needed:
- Crown land – 30 years
- Crown foreshore – 60 years
- Land belonging to a dissolved company
- Bishops, vicars and certain other officers of the Church of England (known as spiritual corporations sole)
Applications are made in the first instance to the Land Registry. The applicant’s statement of truth should explain the facts of the occupation of the land claimed. It should include the date on which occupation commenced, detail any breaks in their occupation and an explanation of them. It should explain the steps taken to occupy the land and what steps have been taken to demonstration ‘to the world at large’ that the applicant considers the land to be his own (eg erecting fences, carrying out improvements, changing the locks to any buildings on the land etc).
The statement of truth may be supported by statements from others with knowledge of the occupation or from someone who was occupying the land previously to make up the full 10 or 12 years’ necessary to be successful.
On receipt, the Land Registry will usually inspect the land and it will serve notice on anyone it knows who has an interest in the land. If no objections are received, and the Land Registry is satisfied with the evidence, it will complete the application for registration. Where an objection is received, the Land Registry will usually refer the matter to the Land Registry Adjudicator.
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