Whose land is it? The importance of protecting what is yours

For rural land owners, adverse possession is a serious subject indeed, and one which has been known to result in distressing and costly legal battles over the rights to even the smallest amounts of land. For this reason, it is imperative you protect yourself before falling foul to so called ‘squatters’ rights’ and to take action at the first opportunity if you fear you are involved in such a situation.

Put simply, adverse possession is the attempt to acquire legal title in land through continuous and uninterrupted occupation, which is usually ten or 12 years. This most commonly involves claims where land has not been inspected for some time.

Many people wrongly assume that such cases of ‘squatters’ rights’ apply to significant portions of vacant land or whole buildings which have been taken over, but usually that is not that case, and it is in fact modest amounts of land which are at stake. Many disputes centre on situations where, for example, families have extended their gardens into adjacent fields, moving the boundaries even slightly. Over time, this line of ownership could potentially be redrawn, if this is not addressed by the rightful proprietor.

However, it is important to remember that no claim can be made by a ‘squatter’ on land they legally hold under a lease or licence. Claims on unregistered land must be accompanied by proof of 12 years’ factual possession, with registered land requiring ten years.

Claims of adverse possession can be extremely serious for landowners. As such to help guard against any potential claims of adverse possession:

  • Ensure your land is registered at the earliest opportunity and details, including contact details, are keep updated
  • Thoroughly check land holdings and compare boundaries with any deeds or title documents that you have
  • Make sure any fences, walls, hedges or other boundaries are in line with how they are documented in title documents or deeds
  • Particularly where land is let on long-term tenancies, make sure boundaries are documented and checked, ideally with photographic evidence. Remind a tenant on agricultural tenancies that they may be in breach of their tenancy terms if they know of or allow any action to take place which may give rise to a claim of adverse possession.
  • Check and revisit boundaries at least every 24 months, particularly if you have any reason to suspect they may have changed (for example, a neighbouring landowner has been carrying out work on or near your boundary line).

If you have any reason to suspect your land has been encroached, it is essential to seek legal advice to establish your position, and to help ward off any claims for adverse possession.

Lewis Couth is a leading land and property dispute specialist at law firm Sintons. To speak to Lewis about this or any other matter, please contact him on 0191 226 3653 or lewis.couth@sintons.co.uk.

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