Q: My husband and I purchased our property from new almost fifty years ago. At the time the developers retained a piece of land at the end of our garden, but when they went out of business a few years later we incorporated it into our garden. My husband has now died and I am thinking of downsizing. However, a friend has pointed out that the extra bit of land won't be on my deeds. Can I claim ownership as I have been using it for nearly forty years?
A: Each case is different but, broadly speaking, if land such as you describe has been occupied by the current occupier, or by them and previous occupants whose period of occupation collectively amounts to 12 years or more without interruption, and occupation was and is as of right, without permission from or payment to any third party, then this should form a good basis for a claim for Adverse Possession or ‘squatters rights'.
Procedurally there are some significant nuances if the land in question is registered as distinct from being unregistered at the time of the application.
You can apply to the Land Registry and if your claim is accepted then it is likely that Possessory Title (as opposed to Absolute Title) will be granted. This means that you will be granted title equivalent to freehold ownership, subject only to any better claim(s) which might be made in the future.
12 years after Possessory Title has been granted you or the then registered proprietor can apply to upgrade to Absolute Title on payment of a fee (currently £40). The Absolute Title will contain an endorsement stipulating the land may be subject to unknown covenants, though it is possible to effectively nullify this by taking out a one-off indemnity policy at relatively modest cost that will cover all existing and future owners and mortgage lenders.