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Adverse Possessions & Land Registry Title Enquiries

Adverse possession

Adverse possession is also commonly known as ‘squatters rights’ and is a mechanism by which a person who does not have the legal title to a piece of land/property acquires legal ownership based on continuous possession or occupation of land without permission.

In order for a person to acquire the legal title by way of adverse possession there are certain requirements which must be met, as follows:

  • Factual possession of land. That is to say a person must be able to evidence that the applicant has been dealing with the land just as an owner would or would be expected to in order to show a degree of physical control over the land and that no one else has done so;
  • There must be the necessary intention to possess with the exclusion of all others - which includes the legal title owner to the land - for example, by the erection of security fencing and/or a gate to the land so that only the applicant is able to access it; and
  • The applicant must not be in occupation/possession of the land with the permission or consent of the legal title owner ie. there must not be any acknowledgement by the applicant to the legal title owner during their period of adverse possession.

Time limits for adverse possession to apply

In addition to the above requirements, an applicant must show that they have been in adverse possession of the land for a sufficient period of time; either 10 or 12 years depending on whether the land is registered or unregistered. It is not necessary for just one person to have been in adverse possession for this period of time; provided that an applicant can show that the period of adverse possession has been continuous and successive without break this then will be sufficient.

Registered or unregistered land - old and new claim regimes

Depending on whether the land is registered or unregistered will govern the regime under which a claim for adverse possession is made.

(Old regime) Where land is unregistered, should the land have been in adverse possession for 12 years or more (and subject to the possessor meeting the above requirements) then the legal title owner cannot evict them and will no longer have title to that land.

(New regime) Where land is registered, even after 12 years a legal owner’s title is not extinguished. Instead a claim by an adverse possessor can be made after 10 years of occupation however the legal title owner will be notified of this claim and it can be challenged by them. It goes without saying that under the new regime, an application for adverse possession is much harder to achieve.

There is an exception to a claim of registered land which is that should the claim of possession have arisen prior to the 13 October 2003 then the applicant could claim under either the old or the new regime.

Also, there are circumstances where longer periods of occupation need to be evidenced; for example in the case of Crown land (30 years) and Crown foreshore (60 years).

Adverse possession application and objections

Subject to the above conditions, an adverse possessor can make an application to the Land Registry to become the legal title owner of the land. As part of the application supporting evidence will be required which will usually consist of one or more statutory declarations or statements of truth in which the applicant (and their predecessors where there is a successive chain of adverse possession) sets out their claim to the land, based on the requirements for adverse possession: ie. the factual possession of the land with the necessary intention to possess it without permission of the legal owner.

Should the Land Registry conclude from the evidence provided that there has been adverse possession for the requisite period of time, then the Land Registry will give notice of the application to any person who, from the information available to them or from their local knowledge, may have an interest in the land; and, where the land is registered, notice will be served on the registered proprietor and on any registered chargee.

A person who receives such a notice will be invited to object to the claim of adverse possession if they feel there is cause to do so and an expiration date will be issued upon which an objection must be lodged.

Possessory title

If the adverse possession application is successful, then the Land Registry will award the applicant with possessory title of the land and provide official title entry documenting the ownership. Possessory title is not the best ‘class’ of title and is usually the title awarded following adverse possession claim. However, after a period of 12 years the proprietor of the possessory title can apply to have the title upgraded to absolute provided no objections to the ownership have been raised during that time. Absolute title is the best class of title you can have for land.

Our expertise

LCF Law’s property team has significant experience in this whole area and can assist with both the making of an adverse possession claim or with providing advice on the objection to a claim. Our services include:

  • Reviewing the evidence and information provided to assess whether the requirements of an adverse possession claim have been met;
  • Advising on the next steps with the drafting of the necessary statements of truth or statutory declarations required in support of the application;
  • Preparing the application itself whether this be by way of first registration of unregistered land or an application to change the title where it is already registered and lodging the application;
  • Advising on objection notices received and on the course of action required.

Land Registry title enquiries

Enquiries can be made of the Land Registry in order to establish information about land or property in England and Wales even if you do not own such land or property yourself.

The information which you can obtain from making enquiries of the Land Registry is:

  • Whether land is registered or unregistered;
  • Where the land is registered:
    • you can obtain a title register which would confirm who owns the land or property and any rights to which it benefits from or is subject to; and any registered charges/mortgages, together with a title plan which would show the extent of the boundaries to that land or property;
    • get copy deeds to find out current or past information about the property land such as its previous owners etc.; and
    • whether there are any pending applications against the land.

A search for property information can be done by just using the address itself but searches can also be made against the name of registered proprietors which would reveal all land registered in that name.

Our expertise

LCF Law’s property team has significant experience in making investigations with the Land Registry records in order to establish further information on behalf of clients in connection with land or property. Using the Land Registry portal we are able to:

  • Locate and obtain title registers, plans and documents with most documents being available to download immediately;
  • Lodge search forms to locate properties held under registered proprietor’s names;
  • Using the Land Registry Mapping System, see whether land is registered or unregistered;
  • Establish whether there are any pending priorities or applications lodged against registered property or land.

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