Real estate disputes

Possession of Land Claims

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While the expression ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’ is not literally true, there are instances where it is easier to claim ownership of land when you are physically in possession of it. In England and Wales, legal ownership of a piece of land can pass to an individual, simply by virtue of them occupying the property for 10 years or more. This is known as adverse possession or more colloquially, ‘squatter’s rights.’

What is a possession of land claim?

An individual may acquire the legal title to someone else’s property after they have used or occupied it for a certain period. For example, there may be a claim where:

  • An individual has lived in someone else’s property as a squatter
  • A boundary has been moved, effectively encapsulating someone’s land into their neighbour’s land
  • There has been a conveyancing error or plans which were not clear about where a boundary lay

In adverse possession cases, the owner may be unaware that ownership of their land is under threat because someone has been using it. The first they may hear of the matter is when the person in possession tries to register themselves as the rightful owner.

How do you make or defend an adverse possession claim?

The Land Registry has a procedure where, after 10 years of adverse possession of the registered property, a person can apply to be registered as the legal owner instead of the existing one. The applicant must prove that they exclusively possessed the land, intentionally, and without the owner’s consent for the full 10 years.

On receipt of an application, the Land Registry will notify the paper owner and give them 65 business days to make an objection. The matter is then referred to the Land Registry’s dispute resolution regime. There’s generally a lot of back-and-forth where the squatter tries to prove his claim and the owner tries to show the claim is groundless.

There’s a different regime for unregistered land where the period of possession is at least 12 years. If the parties cannot come to an agreement about ownership, the dispute will be litigated before the Property Tribunal.

How can we support your possession of land claim?

Collyer Bristow’s adverse possession lawyers have years of experience assisting clients with possession of land claims. We can help you:

  • Make an adverse possession claim
  • Defend an adverse possession claim
  • Evict squatters and travellers
  • Legally end leases, tenancies and other rights of occupation
  • Establish legal ownership where there is no clear record

In many cases, it is not necessary to go to court. Our solicitors are experts in negotiation, so wherever possible we can help you settle the matter amicably, without resorting to court proceedings. Compensation may be a better remedy for certain claims, such as where the adverse possession arises due to a boundary dispute.

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