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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Squatting: applying to own land by adverse possession

If you're occupying a property (like land or a house) without permission you're squatting. If you occupy and use it for several years you could apply to Land Registry to be registered as the legal owner. This is called 'adverse possession'. Find out more about adverse possession.

Adverse possession – the basics

Applications to register yourself as the owner of a property because of adverse possession are handled by Land Registry.

You can apply to be registered as the owner if you've been squatting:

  • on registered land for 10 years
  • on land belonging to the Crown for 60 years or Church of England for 30 years
  • on unregistered land for 12 years, although time spent on the land by another squatter can be used to make up the 12 years

If there is a mortgage on the land, for example, the owner was in debt, you'll need to get a solicitor to argue your case. You might become responsible for the mortgage and be able to get it lessened or cancelled.

Qualifying for adverse possession

To support your application, you:

  • need to prove you've been squatting without the owner's agreement/knowledge
  • need to prove you've been using the property as if you were the owner, known as 'factual possession'
  • need to prove you’ve the 'intention to possess' the property – for example, you've excluded others from using it, perhaps by putting up a fence

When making your application, you should confirm if any of the following apply:

  • 'equity by estoppel' in your favour – for example, you've built on the land believing it was yours, and the owner knew of your mistake but did nothing
  • you're entitled to the property – for example, you bought it but it wasn't legally transferred to you
  • you've had reason to believe you owned the property – for example, fences were put up in the wrong place

Exceptions

Even if you meet all the conditions for adverse possession, there are times when you won't be able to register as the owner. For example:

  • the owner has a disability and can't make decisions or communicate them
  • you've already started a different legal process to own the property
  • the property is 'held in trust'
  • you want to use adverse possession to settle a boundary dispute

You can get more guidance using the link below to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

How to register adverse possession

If the property is registered, you need to apply to Land Registry using form ADV1 and include:

  • a statement of truth (you can use form ST1)
  • any supporting evidence, and list these on form ADV1
  • payment for the fee, currently £150

If the land is unregistered or belongs to the Crown or Church of England, you need to use form FR1 and include:

  • a statement of truth (you can use form ST1)
  • two copies of form DL
  • a plan of the land
  • any supporting evidence, and list these on form DL
  • payment for the initial fee of £50 (other fees might also apply, for example, for a survey)

A statement of truth confirms that you meet all the requirements to register as the owner.

How Land Registry handles adverse possession applications

The basic steps are shown below.

Step one

Land Registry will usually send a surveyor to inspect the property.

Step two

If you appear to meet the requirements to apply for ownership, Land Registry will contact the owner and other people with an 'interest' in the property.

Step three

The owner and anyone with an interest in the property has 65 days to send a written response to Land Registry. They could:

  • agree with your application
  • object to your application – for example, perhaps they feel you don't meet one of the conditions
  • send a counter notice using form NAP
  • not respond

Step four

You will be registered as the owner if the owner doesn't object or respond or if Land Registry decides an objection is not valid.

If there's an objection, Land Registry will ask you and the owner to negotiate. If you can't come to an agreement, Land Registry may send your case to the Adjudicator to HM Land Registry, who will arrange a hearing.

If the owner claims you don't meet all the conditions for adverse possession, Land Registry will investigate. Land Registry may:

  • reject your application if you don't have a good case
  • send your case to the Adjudicator if an agreement can't be reached

Being told about adverse possession applications

You can ask Land Registry to tell you if someone applies for adverse possession of any property you've got an interest in. You need to use form ADV2 and pay a fee, currently £50. To cancel this notification use form AP1.

Where to send your Land Registry forms

The Land Registry office you need to apply to might not be the one that is closest to you. Use Land Registry's office finder to find out which office to send your forms to.

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