Adverse Possession

Adverse possession arises when someone (often called a squatter) enters and remains in occupation of land (including buildings) belonging to someone else without the owner’s permission.  

If such a squatter remains in occupation for some time, the true owner may find that they can no longer take possession proceedings as their claim will be ‘statute barred’ under the Limitation Acts. The squatter may then claim a ‘possessory title’ and can apply for that to be registered at the Land Registry.  

There is no statutory definition of what is adverse possession. Instead it is necessary to look at cases which judges have had to consider, usually when the true owner has decided to bring possession proceedings.  It is now generally agreed that there must be factual occupation, that the squatter must have intended to occupy the property, and that possession must be without the true owner’s consent.

Proving Adverse Possession

While a squatter must have been in factual occupation this does not mean that they have to be on the property 24 hours a day. They must show that they have continued to use it in the same way as an occupying owner would; for example, if the property was a house, they would have to show that they ate and slept there, paid the outgoings, and generally treated it as if they were the true owner.

Occasional use of land does not constitute adverse possession, e.g. using it sometimes to walk the dog, nor will using land as an access to another property.  

An intention to exclude anyone else from occupying the land, such as erecting a fence round unfenced land, is strong evidence (although it is not essential).  

Occupation must be ‘adverse’ to the true owner’s title, so entry with the true owner’s consent does not count. Tenants or other occupiers who have the owner’s permission to enter land would only be able to claim that they are in adverse possession once the lease term has expired or the owner’s consent has been revoked.