When a person occupies land belonging to someone else without permission continuously for 10 or 12 years, then in precise circumstances they can then become the owners of that land. This is called adverse possession and it can occur in varying circumstances.
In the case of unregistered land, when we are buying it we generally ask the seller to tell us why they think they own the land. If they can show that either they or themselves and previous owners were in continual possession for at least 12 years, then there exists the grounds for adverse possession to that plot of land.
So when someone starts using someone else’s land, with or without knowing it was someone else’s land, and they use it for 12 years without challenge and continuously they can then become the legal owner of that land.
In relation to registered land, the rules are slightly different. Where land is registered from 2003, there is a significantly higher degree of protection from the title being lost to someone else’s adverse possession.
If there is somebody who doesn’t own adjoining land who occupies someone else’s registered land, then after 10 years’ adverse possession they can apply to the land registry to be registered as the new owner.
At that point the current registered owner is informed of the application and can object. The registered owner has 2 years to start legal proceedings to have the Claimant ejected and only if they fail to take action will the Claimant in 2 years’ time be entitled to be registered as the owner – a significant protection for the registered owner in that situation.
BUT: if the parties own adjoining land, then there is a reduced protection for the registered owner fighting off the Claimant.
So if two adjoining property owners have put a hedge in the wrong place in a case of registered land, then one of them can be registered as the owner after 10 years of possession, providing he reasonably believed during that 10-year period that the land belonged to him. The registered owner would not be entitled to object in those circumstances.
Registered land can be acquired by adverse possession without the registered owner being given notice before it is too late. An example of this is if someone was in adverse possession of registered land for 12 years prior to the 2003 deadline then they can apply to be registered immediately.
The only defence to this is for the person who has registered title of the property to prove that the Claimant wasn’t in adverse possession for the 12 years prior to 2003.
If you need advice in relation to adverse possession then do not hesitate to call us on 01872 302342.