Adverse Possession: How To Claim Land In The UK

by | Jun 9 2021 | Landlord & Tenant, Property

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Adverse Possession | Read Time 2-4 Minutes.

Proving adverse possession

It’s important to understand that in the context of this article, “adverse” refers to the original owners’ title. In order to take adverse possession of a piece of land, you must have initial possession of the land. However, if you have an agreement with a person where you rent the ground or have been given permission to do so, it is unlikely to be adverse.

Suppose that you have clearly taken possession of a piece of land, i.e., fenced-off the land so that no one else can enter it. In that case, your possession of the land is likely to be sufficient to meet a claim for adverse possession. However, please be aware, situations like this generally aren’t very common.

In the majority of cases, it’s complicated to determine whether you have sole possession of the land or if others have been freely using the land. In the case where others have been using the land, it can cause issues when making a claim for adverse possession. For example, if it can be proved that others have been using the land, it can lead to certain requirements not being met for adverse possession claims.

Land claimed through adverse possession in the UK

Intention to possess

To successfully claim land under adverse possession, you must demonstrate that your occupation of the land meets the following requirements:

  • Continuous use of the land: Ensuring that you have been in continuous possession of the land in question.
  • A hostile takeover of the property: You must ensure there is no pre-existing agreement or license from the landowner, such as a rent agreement or lease.
  • Exclusive use: This requirement ensures that you are the sole user of the land and exclude any others from using the land.
  • Open and notorious possession: This requirement means that your possession of the land is obvious to anyone else who observes it.
  • Actual possession: You actively maintain the land, such as cutting bushes, putting up fences and paying taxes.

When can adverse possession be denied?

Suppose that you build a fence on the land you wish to take adverse possession of. However, the fence only covers a small proportion of the land to prevent a hazard. In this case, you may not be able to make a successful claim. This is because it can be proved that the fencing was implemented as a safety precaution rather than to mark possession.

When can you claim adverse possession of unregistered land?

To claim for adverse possession in the UK, you have to be in possession of the unregistered land for a minimum of 12 years. After the 12 year period, you are entitled to make an application to the Land Registry for a Possessory Title. When making an application, you will have to prove that you have possession. This can be done through demonstrating a commitment to owning and utilizing the land.

Claiming adverse possession of registered land

If you want to claim adverse possession of registered land in the UK, you will need to be in possession of the piece of registered land for at least 10 years. Once you have occupied a piece of unregistered land for 10 years, you will be able to claim the Land Registry for Possessory Title. If your application is approved, it will mean that you will become the owner of the land.

If you make an application to claim land and it is rejected, you must wait two years before making a new application.

Objections and counter-notices

It may seem very straightforward to claim registered land. However, you should be aware that in the UK, there are rules surrounding objections and counter-notices. On the 13th of October 2003, legislation was implemented in the UK which ensures possession claims involving land registry must notify the original landowner. This will then give the owner a chance to object to the request if they decide you do not meet the criteria and then serve a counter-notice.

If this is the case and counter-notice is served, the application will most likely fail unless:
  • You originally paid for the land but there was a dispute over the contract, and it has not been transferred to you. In this case, you could seek the legal advice of a property lawyer. They can help coherently present evidence of you making the payment if the dispute was to reach court.
  • It can be argued that it was unfair for the original owner of the land to object to the application. This will only apply in a minority of claims, and it is advised to seek legal assistance when attempting to pursue this route for a claim.
  • Suppose the land you are trying to claim is adjacent to your current land, and subsequently you thought you owned it. In this case, the land must have been registered with the land registry for over a year before the adverse possession claim was made. 

Adverse possession can be very complex to complete as issues can often arise when attempting to make claims. This is because different rules and time periods apply. For example, particular pieces of land belonging to the crown means you can’t claim possession. Therefore, it advised seeking legal assistance of a lawyers who specialises in adverse possession as they can advise on obligatory periods which apply to notices and applications.

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