Q&A - What is Adverse Possession?

Q:  I have lived in the same village all my life. Next to my current property is a piece of land that ever since I can remember has been unfenced, unkempt and does not appear to belong to anyone. A friend of mine says that if I moved my fence to encompass it, and no-one objected, I could eventually claim it as my land under something called ‘adverse possession'.  Is this correct?

A:  Adverse possession, otherwise known as squatter's rights, is a means by which a person can acquire land belonging to someone else by squatting on it for a defined period. This is clearly of interest to property owners who stand to lose land as well as those who claim squatter's rights.

The law now distinguishes between land which is registered and that which is not. In the case of unregistered land, to acquire title the squatter must show exclusive possession without consent of the true owner for a period of at least 12 years. The best evidence is fencing off. For this reason it is difficult to establish adverse possession in the case of parking spaces.

In the case of registered land the situation has been made more difficult for the squatter since 2002. Although the period was reduced to 10 years (other than when it accrued before 2002) the squatter's application will be automatically rejected by the Land Registry unless one of three specific grounds is proved. It is interesting to note, however, that if the squatter loses the claim the true owner must evict him promptly. If the squatter can show that he has occupied the land for a further two years after rejection of his original application he will be entitled to be registered as the owner.