Adverse possession

Sally Calvert - June 22nd 2017

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession means someone occupying land which belongs to someone else, without their permission. If someone occupies the land for 10 years (in the case of registered land) or 12 years (for unregistered land), then if certain requirements are met, then the land may become theirs.

How could adverse possession affect me?

You could be in the position of being either the squatter claiming possession of the land, or as the legal owner facing an application.

If you are in either position, it is extremely important to seek legal advice on the way forwards.  We can provide you with guidance and advice, whether you are trying to claim a right to a parcel or land, or defend your position as the legal owner.

If I am the squatter, what do I need to prove?

If you are the person who is trying to assert rights over the land and make a successful application for adverse possession, you need to factually possess the land, have an intention to possess and without the legal owner’s consent.

Factual possession

In terms of factually possessing the land, the circumstances of each application will be different, however broadly speaking, the squatter will need to prove that they have been dealing with the land as an occupying owner might have been expected to deal with it and no-one else has done so.  For example, fencing the land off is strong evidence of possession, but it is not conclusive.

The intention to possess

The intention is extremely important and must be an intention to possess, not just to own or even acquire ownership.  In the case of Powell v McFarlane (1979), the intention to possess means ‘the intention, in one’s own name and on one’s own behalf, to exclude the world at large, including the owner with the paper title’.

Possession without the owner’s consent

If the person claiming adverse possession does so under the terms of a licence or tenancy agreement, then he possesses the land through consent.  Such consent or a form of consent must not be granted for an application to be successful.

What if there is a squatter on my land?

If a person is occupying your land and you are concerned about a possible adverse possession claim, then in order to block a future claim, you could grant a licence or tenancy agreement to them.  This way they will be occupying the land with your consent and an adverse possession claim would not be successful.

Registered land has more protection from claims than unregistered land, therefore if your land is unregistered, we would strongly advise you to arrange for this to be registered.  We can deal with the registration of the land on your behalf.

Forthcoming film based on squatter’s rights

There is a film due out shortly which draws upon the experience of Harry Hallowes, an Irish squatter who became the legal owner of a plot of land on Hampstead Heath.  Aptly named ‘Hampstead’!

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me, or a member of my team.