Adverse possession and squatters – take care to protect your land.
“Squatter’s rights” is the colloquial term often used to describe what lawyers call “adverse possession”. Adverse possession is the process by which someone is not the legal owner of land can become the owner by possessing the land without the owner’s consent for a period of time.
There are two regimes in place for deciding whether a ‘squatter’ has acquired land by adverse possession depending on whether land is registered or unregistered; it is important to understand which system applies to your land.
For land that is unregistered, a squatter can acquire title based on 12 years adverse occupation.
If the land is registered then the squatter will be entitled to apply to be registered as owner in place of the registered owner after 10 years’ adverse possession. As the registered owner you will be notified of the application and have the opportunity to object and serve a ‘counter notice’; there is a strict time limit for responding and it is important that you do not miss the deadline as you may find that this leads to someone else being registered as owner of your land! Provided that you do respond in time to any notice, the squatter has a number of challenging hoops to jump through before it can be registered as owner.
Where someone enters your land without permission and their occupation is ‘obvious’, removal of the squatter is relatively straightforward. However, it is not always obvious and unless vigilant, landowners may find land is lost to adjoining owners encroaching onto property sometimes in the mistaken belief that it belongs to them and other times simply because the land appears available and unused.
To acquire title in this situation your neighbour has to show he has been in adverse possession of land adjacent to their own for at least 10 years under the mistaken but reasonable belief that they are the owner of it. Boundaries on the ground do not always coincide with the boundaries as shown on the register and the register will not generally be conclusive as to the line of a boundary unless the exact line has been determined by the Land Registry.
How can you prevent squatters acquiring title?
It is undoubtedly harder to acquire title by adverse possession under the registered land regime and voluntarily registration of your land is one option. If land is registered, and you are concerned that boundaries are not clear, you may consider applying for the boundaries to be fixed to exclude the possibility of a neighbouring landowner squatter from establishing the right to be registered as the owner.
Where someone is occupying land ‘informally’ and you are aware of it, landowners should take steps to formalise the occupation of their property such as by granting a formal tenancy or licence.
For further help or advice, please contact Director and Head of Agriculture and Landed Estates, Johanne Spittle, on 01904 561425 or Johanne.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.