Can the time spent by successive occupiers of land be taken together under the doctrine of Adverse Possession?
This was a question that Senior Associate Charlotte Barron had to address in a recent appeal case for a client.
In the early 1970s, A started occupying an area of land within a large estate in Cumbria, which he did not own. He built stables and greenhouses, kept horses, and sold firewood from the land. The owner took no action.
In the early 1990s, a company with fishing rights for a nearby river persuaded A to move. A few weeks later, B occupied the land. He cleared the site and initially built a chicken coup, then replaced it with a storage container for bird feed and fishing equipment.
In 2016, the estate was sold to C. In 2021, C asserted that B was a trespasser and sought an injunction to prevent him from occupying the land. B maintained that, given his years of occupation and those of A before him, he was entitled to be registered as the legal owner of the land by adverse possession.
It was held that B had occupied the land to the exclusion of all others. Further, that occupation could be aggregated with A’s to give him adverse possession for the requisite 12 years before 2003. B was entitled to be registered as the legal owner of the land.
C appealed. We acted for B in the appeal.
The judge held that A was “overwhelmingly likely” to have been in occupation from at least 1989. His intention to possess the land was unambiguous and excluded all others, including the “paper owner”. There was sufficient evidence to aggregate his possession with that of B.
The appeal was dismissed, with C ordered to pay B’s costs.
A squatter may be entitled to be registered as the owner of land without realising it. Meanwhile, a landowner could lose possession by failing to use a piece of land! Who occupies your land?