Disputes often arise over the ownership of an area of land. If you own land that someone else is using without your permission, you might be at risk of losing it altogether.


Jessica Piper-Thompson
Jessica Piper-Thompson
Solicitor - Head of Property Litigation - South West

Someone who does not own land can obtain it by adverse possession. This is sometimes referred to as ‘squatters rights’.

Adverse possession is where a person can become the legal owner of land if they have possessed that land for a specified period of time, without permission from the legal owner.

There are two ways in which a squatter could obtain land by adverse possession. Once adverse possession is established the legal owner may not be able to oppose it. This would allow the squatter to legally register the land in his/her own name.

The Old Rules

The old rules are in common law and they are based on the Limitation Act 1980. The old rules allow a squatter to obtain land by adverse possession after they have possessed it for 12 years or more. The period should end by 13th October 2003.

The test was set out  in Powell v McFarlane (1979) 38 P & CR 452. This case tells us that the squatter needs to prove the following to claim title by adverse possession:

  • Uninterrupted factual possession of the land for the necessary period; and
  • Intention on the part of the claimant to possess the land during that period of possession.

Time begins to run when the legal owner of the land is not in factual possession of it and the squatter has possessed the land.

It is important to note that once the necessary 12 year period has been established, the owner of the land will not be able to claim it back. 

The New Rules

If the squatter has not been in possession of the land for 12 years by 13th October 2003, then he/she could apply to be registered as the legal owner of the land after 10 years of adverse possession. However, under these new rules, the owner can oppose the application.  If the owner objects to the application, it will be rejected unless the squatter satisfies specific conditions.

Time is a Factor

Whether you are the land owner or you believe that you may have acquired land by adverse possession, it is important that you consider when possession started and the specific period of time the land has been used for.

The timing and period of possession will determine whether your dispute falls under the old rules or the new rules (under the Land Registration Act 2002) which may have a significant impact on the situation.

We Can Help

At MW, our mission is "to make quality legal services accessible to everyone", including landowners who are in dispute over ownership of land. 

Our specialist Property Disputes Lawyers have the experience and knowledge to help you to resolve your issues in an efficient and timely way. 

If you think that you may have a land or property dispute or would like to discuss your issue with our team, call us today on 0203 551 8500 or use our Contact Us form to arrange a call back.

Contact Us

Translate this page

enfrdeitptrues