A successful claim for adverse possession will enable a person to acquire ownership of land or property, which did not formerly belong to them, without having to purchase that land or property.
Instantly, one may think of squatters and the various high profile cases that have been reported in the media, where people have taken possession of houses and then successfully applied to be registered as the owners. However, adverse possession can also be used to rectify innocent mistakes between neighbours or to bring previously disused land back into use.
In order to bring a claim for adverse possession a person must be able to demonstrate that they have been in factual and exclusive possession of the land for the required period of time without the consent of the owner of that land and with the intention of excluding the world at large. The law was changed in order to make it more difficult to acquire land by adverse possession with effect from the 13th October 2003. This has created two regimes.
If land is unregistered then a person will have an automatic right to be registered as the legal owner of that land provided that they can satisfy the necessary requirements and demonstrate that they have been in possession of the land for a minimum of 12 years. If the land is registered with the Land Registry then, provided a person can demonstrate that they have been in factual possession of the land for a period of 12 years prior to the 13th October 2003,
they too have an automatic right to be registered as the legal owner of the property.
If the land is registered and it is not possible to demonstrate 12 years factual possession prior to the 13th October 2003 then an alternative regime applies. In order to bring a claim for adverse possession, a person must be able to show that they have been in possession of the land for at least 10 years. However, they will not be automatically entitled to be registered as the legal owner of the property, and will have to apply to the Land Registry who will give notice of the application to the legal owner, who can either agree or object to the application. They can object on the grounds that the applicant has not satisfied the requirements for an adverse possession claim. However, if despite objecting to the application and, the applicant remains in possession of the land for a further two years, then they can apply again for possession of the land and are likely to be registered as owners.
The message for owners of land or property is that it is your responsibility to ensure that you keep control of your property and know who is using it.
Claims for adverse possession are rarely straight forward and it is important, whether seeking to claim adverse possession of land or defend a claim of adverse possession, that legal advice is sought without delay.