How can I claim ownership of this land? – A guide to Adverse Possession and First Registration
Have you occupied a piece of land for so long that you now consider it to be yours? Or perhaps you believe the land is in your legal ownership, but it has never been registered at Land Registry, and you have lost the original deeds? It is possible to claim ownership of land and register the title at Land Registry so long as certain conditions are met.
Adverse Possession of Unregistered Land
Adverse Possession means to occupy land which may belong to another with the intention of treating it as your own. Unregistered land is that which is not currently registered at Land Registry as being under any legal ownership. If you do currently occupy an unregistered piece of land that you feel is rightfully yours, it may be possible to register it as such at Land Registry if you meet at least the following criteria:
- You have possessed the land to the exclusion of any other party without objection or consent.
- You have shown intention to possess the land (i.e. you have fenced it in some way). and you carry out maintenance such as cutting the grass and hedges.
- You have not ever paid any rent for the land.
You must have met the above criteria openly, continuously, and for at least the last 12 years except in the case of land owned by a public body (e.g. a council) where the period is 30 years.
If you believe you have met the criteria, then the next step is to contact your solicitor. Your solicitor will ask you to provide as much information as possible relating to the land, including a plan showing the extent of the land and as much evidence as you can provide, including photos showing the boundaries, fencing and any documentation showing you have purchased and maintained the fencing and gates. If you believe that you did once possess the deeds showing your ownership of the land, but they have been lost, please advise your solicitor of this as this is an important detail that your solicitor will need to include within the application.
Your solicitor will prepare a Statement of Truth or Statutory Declaration that you must swear in the presence of a solicitor. This document will contain the information evidencing your claim to ownership and will also contain any documentary evidence (i.e. photos etc.) that you can provide.
Once the Statutory Declaration has been finalised and sworn, your solicitor will use that document to make their application to the Land Registry. Usually, the Land Registry will then send a surveyor to inspect the land. The Land Registry will consider the application and then revert to your solicitor with any queries or further requirements.
Notices will usually be sent to the owners of neighbouring land or anyone else the Land Registry may believe have rights over the land (i.e. a right of way), informing them of your claim over it. The owners will be invited to object if they feel they have just cause, and they will be given an expiration date for their objection to be lodged.
Finally, if the application is successful, Land Registry will award you with a “Possessory” title (more information on this below) and provide you with official title entries documenting your ownership.
Adverse Possession – Registered Land
In some cases, the land you are claiming ownership of may already be registered at the Land Registry as belonging to someone else, but the owner appears to have abandoned the land. The process for applying for possessory title of registered land is in many ways similar to applying for the title of unregistered land if 12 years’ continuous possession were accrued before the Land Registration Act 2002 came into force.
Since the Land Registration Act 2002 came into force, a squatter need only be in possession for 10 years, but the new rules now make it much more unlikely that title will be granted to the squatter. You should speak to your solicitor concerning these rules if you feel they may apply to your claim.
First Registration is when the deeds showing ownership are present, but the land or property has previously remained unregistered at Land Registry. Once unregistered land is sold on, it is now compulsory for the purchaser’s solicitor to register the land or property at Land Registry.
If you are the owner of some unregistered land and hold the deeds, you may like to register it voluntarily as this will save time and possible costs if you do ever wish to sell the land. Land Registry currently offer a reduced fee for voluntary first registration, and you should contact your solicitor if this is of interest to you.
What class of title will I be awarded.?
Freehold property is registered at Land Registry under two main classes of title – Absolute and Possessory.
Absolute title means that the owner’s title to the property is indisputable and that no one else can try to claim that they are the rightful owners. This is of course the best kind of ownership.
Possessory title is given when the applicant cannot produce evidence of ownership (i.e. no deeds) and is usually the title awarded to adverse possession applications. After a period of 12 years, the proprietor of a possessory title may apply to have the title upgraded to “absolute” so long as no objections to their ownership have been raised during that time.
If you feel any of the above applies to you and would like legal advice, please call us on 0800 8494101.