Basic considerations for adverse possession of land

Acquiring land by adverse possession is a legal process by which a non-owning occupier “a squatter” of a piece of land can apply to the Land Registry to become the registered proprietor of the land having occupied it for a specified period of time.

Before such an application can be submitted there are a few basic considerations to bear in mind: 

1. Is the land under occupation registered or unregistered?

The answer effectively determines the period of time the land has to have been adversely occupied. If the land is registered, in accordance with the Land Registration Act 2002, the squatter must have occupied the land for a continuous period of 10 years prior to the application. If the land is unregistered, the process remains pursuant to the ‘old regime’ which requires a period of 12 years’ continuous occupation. 

Once the land has been occupied for the requisite period of time, the squatter can be deemed as having obtained “factual possession” of the land.

2. Physical control of the land

For applications under both the old and new regimes, the squatter must be able to show that they have exhibited a ‘sufficient’ degree of exclusive control over the land. What is deemed as sufficient will depend on the circumstances of the case and nature of the land and its use.

An owner may break the chain of a squatter’s continuous occupation merely by resuming their possession for a short period of time.

3. Intention to possess the land

The squatter must also be able to show an intention to possess the land during their period of occupation. This intention must relate to occupying the land on their own behalf, in their own name and excluding all others including the registered proprietor.

Once an application has been submitted to the Land Registry if the land is registered then the “paper” owner is notified and given 65 business days to respond. The events following would very much be determined by the response, whether opposed or otherwise. However, if the paper owner disputes the claim, then the claim will likely be referred to the First-tier Tribunal. 

Should you have any issues with squatters on your land or if you believe you have a claim in respect of land you occupy it would be advisable to seek legal advice before initiating any legal action.

Writes: Jack Staker Trainee Solicitor – Whitehead Monckton | 01622 698028 |