How to stop adverse possession of your property in the UK

Are you worried about someone taking over your land without your permission? Do you know that the regulations around adverse possession have become more complex since 2002? If you’re concerned about losing ownership of your property, you need to act fast. 

This article provides various ways to prevent adverse possession and protect your land, from paying attention to the length of possession to using vacant property insurance. 

We’ll also suggest hiring a conveyancing solicitor to help you navigate the process of stopping an adverse possession. Don’t wait until it’s too late – read on to find out how you can protect your property rights and avoid the headache of dealing with adverse possession.

A sign stopping adverse possessions

How to stop an adverse possession

After 2002, adverse possessions have become a lot harder to enact as the process became a bit more complex. Now, squatters must be in the property and prove that they have occupied the property (or land) for at least ten years.

Having said this, it could be the case that the landowner objects to the squatter from claiming possession of the land due to living there for so long in an adverse possession and demand that they meet other standards.

These standards are what make the post 2002 rules a lot harder for squatters to claim land under an adverse possession and part of the changes made to the law and property act 1925.

Estoppel

The first of the standards includes what is known as an “estoppel”. This is where it is deemed unjust that the squatter should be evicted from a property because of the way that the squatter has relied on the property, added value to the property or changed the property in their time living there.

For more on these estoppel standards, click here to visit the government website where you will be able to learn about how squatting and the law works in further detail.

A secondary claim on the land

Other reasons that a squatter may be able to claim for are unusual and may be due to things like the owner of the land acting unlawfully or there being a secondary factor that makes it reasonable for a squatter to not be evicted.

There is a reasonable boundary error

For reasons that are usually due to poor technical drawings, there could be a misunderstanding on where the boundaries of a property lie. If a squatter is able to prove that the boundary is unclear and they have been reasonable therefore using the land, an adverse possession becomes more likely.

Stopping an adverse possession claim from arising in the first place

The phrase “prevention is better than cure” rings true when it comes to stopping adverse possessions in the UK. This is because if you have a claim on your land as a landlord or freeholder, the chances are it is already quite late in the process of the adverse possession.

It is understandable that it is not always the case that you can plan for everything and if you had land that you were not aware you owned or the boundary for land was placed in the wrong place then you may find yourself lost in this sense.

Nonetheless, if you have a property that you think may be possessed, you should

Using a solicitor

Sometimes, it is very clear that land or property is being used or claimed by someone who doesn’t own the land but because of the complexity of the problem, the owner of the land doesn’t do anything about it before it is too late.

Hence, time passes and squatters or those using the land for their benefit have a strong case to bring to the land registry that they should have the rightful title to the land. In order to prevent delay, using a solicitor can help you out quite a bit.

The kind of solicitors you will need to include in the process of stopping an adverse possession would be a conveyancing solicitor.

For a place where you can safely compare the prices of conveyancing solicitors to help out with your adverse possessions in the UK, click here.

A deal between two adverse possessions in a property

Using vacant property insurance

Empty property insurance or vacant home insurance is where there is insurance taken out on a property to cover it from the risks that crop up from leaving a property for a long period of time unoccupied.

One of these risks of course is the result of there being an adverse possession. So, this insurance covers all the costs associated with getting rid of squatters which makes it significantly easier to take action and stop an adverse possession.

You will feel comfortable in eviction and ensure that it never gets long enough for a squatter to be able to claim the right to your property.

Paying attention to the length of possession

If you are able to pay attention to how long a piece of land or property has been being used for then it is far easier to prevent there from being an adverse possession given that a squatter must be in the property for 10 – 12 years in order to claim anything.

It could be as simple as the freeholder or landlord of a property having protocol to come into their land every 9 years and evict anyone living there or periodically cut back and reclaim land that is being encroached on. Even if they are not using it.

With the help of a conveyancing solicitor, this may not be very expensive in most cases as you will be able to spread the cost out over years and you may not have to evict squatters all of the time. It is just in the event that anyone has moved in.

Paying attention to the boundaries of a property

Land that is isolated, perhaps due to it awaiting development for instance. Is vulnerable to being “eaten up” by neighbours. For example, if the boundaries are unclear due to construction taking place or there being a lot of rubble on the site.

In a case like this, it would be easy, whether intentional or not, for a neighbour to start taking care of a part of the land as their own and if this goes on for long enough then they would have a good case to claim the land in the future.

This is common with bits of land that are patches of a garden or access ways that have been forgotten about. So, pay attention to boundaries and where they lie, especially if there is ongoing construction or the land is particularly large and things could get obscure.

A house with squatters that will be adversely possessed

Examples of adverse possession in the UK

An example of how an adverse possession may work in the UK will always start with a property that has unclear boundaries. For example, imagine there are two people, Jane and John, who have lived in a property for 12 years.

They have been maintaining the land as their own, without the knowledge or permission of the true owner. After 12 years, they could claim ownership of the property through adverse possession.

Or, a company who owns a piece of land that has been left vacant for several years may have a group of squatters move in and start using the land for various purposes, such as growing crops and keeping animals.

If the company does not take action to remove the squatters within the required time limit, the squatters could claim ownership through adverse possession as they are now using the land to support their lifestyle and have added value to it.

So, in order to stop an adverse possession from happening, the main thing you can do as an owner of the land is take care of your boundaries, pay attention to how long squatters have been on your land and evict them where you need to.

Even if you are aware that there are squatters and you don’t want to deal with the process of getting rid of squatters all the time, picking a time period that is under ten years in order to have an eviction and clear the premises would be a good idea.

For instance, in the example of Jane and John above, if the true owner just came forward and claimed the land and evicted Jane and John before the 12 years were up, then there would be no issue and no chance of an adverse possession.

How do the old and new rules of adverse possessions compare?

In the past (before 2003), a squatter in the UK was only able to claim land if the land was unregistered but this has gotten a lot more complicated.

It used to be that if, according to the land registry there was no one registered with the land, it would just take 12 years of occupying a property before the squatter could legally make a valid claim to own the land’s title.

Now, this still applies to unregistered land but there still has to be a court process involved and if there is a claim on registered land, all it takes is the title owner to come forward to stop this happening.

To conclude

In the UK, ownership of land that has been occupied for an extended period without the owner’s permission may be able to be claimed. The post-2002 regulations have made the process more complex though so it is not a major issue you have to worry about as a landlord or land owner. 

If you’re still not sure, re-read this article as it certainly provides different ways to prevent adverse possession, such as paying attention to the length of possession, boundaries, and using vacant property insurance. 

a house that has been adversely possessed

Defending yourself against an adverse possession 

If you want to defend yourself from this happening to you as a landlord, the first thing you should do is make sure that any land you own is registered. If you cannot do this, periodically go back and check if the land you have is being lived in or being taken care of by someone else.

If you find this is the case then this would be your chance to get rid of any squatters or perhaps show that you are taking care of the land or property yourself.

Your next steps in the case of squatters

To put things simply, you should not take matters into your own hands, contact the police and contact a solicitor if you have to. You may be breaking the law yourself if you do so hence it is always best to play things safe.

In summary

Adverse possession is the process whereby someone without the title to a property can become the legal owner of it if they have possessed it for a long enough period of time and this can apply to any type of property, including land, a flat or a house. 

So it is without a doubt that someone with land or a property may be worried by this part of the law. The truth is, while the process may seem easy, it is far more complicated in real life, as demonstrated by some examples above.

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donnell-bailey

Donnell Bailey

Property expert

Donnell is a property expert focusing on the property market, he looks at a combination of legislation, information from property managers, letting agents and market trends to produce information to help landlords.

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