Ask The Legal Expert - Preventing temporary occupiers from claiming squatters' rights
- AuthorJCP Solicitors
I inherited a small farm in West Wales from an aunt four years ago. I live several hundred miles away, so I have not been there since I inherited. I’ve now heard that a family is living off the land there. How can I prevent these temporary occupiers claiming squatters’ rights?
Adverse possession – commonly known as squatters’ rights – is a real risk for landowners, though it is more commonly experienced between neighbours with disputes over the gradual creep of boundaries.
Squatters can acquire ownership of property or land simply by virtue of long, continual, uninterrupted use. If the legal owner does not evict a squatter from their land within a certain time period, or does not disturb the squatter’s use of the land, their legal ownership may be lost to the squatter.
You can apply to the Court for an Interim Possession Order if 28 days or fewer have elapsed since you discovered squatters. The court will send confirmation of your IPO, along with documents you must serve to squatters within 48 hours.
If this deadline has passed, the family could become the legal owner if they:
- Apply to HM Land Registry to be recognised as the new legal owner
- Produce evidence that they have occupied land that is registered at the Land Registry, continuously and uninterrupted for 10 years
- Can prove intention to possess – that they have spent money on maintaining the land
- Can show they acted as land owners for the whole of that period, and that they did not have permission from the owner to do so
- Can prove factual possession of the land – so, a level of physical control of the plot, including building fences or using it as farmland
To stop the clock on a potential claim for adverse possession, you must ensure the land is registered to you and your address and contact details are up to date with Land Registry.
Show your interest in the land by maintaining and inspecting it, and by interfering with the squatters use of your land, by, for example, removing any fencing they have erected.
If the squatters apply to be legally registered as the owners you will receive notification, which you must to act upon swiftly, with specialist legal advice. Rebutting adverse possession claims can be costly and it is wise to nip them in the bud.
The question posed is based upon a hypothetical situation.