Written by

Katherine Oakes


What is adverse possession?

In UK law, adverse possession (also known as squatters rights) refers to a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of land or property that they have occupied and used openly, continuously, and without the owner’s permission for a specified period. The legal basis for adverse possession is governed by the Land Registration Act 2002.

The key elements for a successful adverse possession claim:

Qualification Period: For registered land, the period of adverse possession is typically 10 years. This means that someone must openly and continuously occupy the land without the owner’s permission for a decade before they can make a claim.

For unregistered land, the adverse possession period is typically 12 years. Again, during this time, the occupant must maintain continuous and open possession without the owner’s consent.

Continuous and Adverse Possession: the possession of the land must be continuous, without any significant gaps or interruptions for a successful adverse possession claim. Possession by a previous occupant can be combined with the current possessor’s period, provided there is evidence and continuous occupation throughout.  You occupation must be “adverse,” meaning you’re using it without the owner’s consent.

You must show that you have been in factual possession of the land. Often this will be shown by fencing off of the land or by securing it to exclude others and that you have the intent to possess the land.

Evidence Gathering: Gathering thorough and convincing evidence is crucial when making an adverse possession claim. This evidence helps establish your continuous and adverse possession of the land. Here are some types of evidence you may want to gather:

  • A sworn statement or affidavit detailing your history of possession, the nature of your use of the land, and any relevant circumstances.
  • Photographs of the land and any structures you have erected can serve as visual evidence of your occupation.
  • Collect utility bills, such as electricity, water, gas and council tax addressed to you at the property. This demonstrates your practical use and residence on the land.
  • Document any improvements or maintenance work you’ve undertaken on the property. This could include records of repairs, renovations, or landscaping.
  • Statements from neighbours, friends, or anyone who can attest to your continuous and open use of the land can add credibility to your claim.
  • Statements made by you and any other relevant individuals affirming the details of your possession and use of the land.
  • Drawings or plans showing the boundaries of the land and any structures can be helpful in illustrating your occupation.
  • If applicable, insurance policies for structures on the land or any liability insurance can demonstrate your acknowledgment of responsibility for the property.
  • Any communication with the legal landowner, especially if it acknowledges your use of the land, can be relevant.
  • Search for and include any public records or notices indicating your presence on the property.

Application to Land Registry: An application can be made to Land Registry for adverse possession. If successful, you may be granted possessory title which after 12 years can be upgraded to absolute title.

Landowner’s Response: Upon receiving notice of an adverse possession claim, the landowner (if they can be found) has the opportunity to object to the claim. They may dispute the adverse possessor’s right to take ownership of the land. If the landowner does object, and the parties cannot reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation, the case may be referred to the Property Tribunal for resolution.

It’s important to note that adverse possession claims can be legally complex. Seeking legal advice from a qualified lawyer is highly recommended to navigate the process effectively and ensure you have the necessary evidence to support your claim.

Practice guide 4: adverse possession of registered land – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

This article is intended for guidance only and does not constitute legal advice – 2024

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