BOUNDARIES & SQUATTER S RIGHTS

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1 BOUNDARIES & SQUATTER S RIGHTS Odd Results? The general boundary rule can have results that seem odd - for example the Land Registry s Practice Guides make it clear that they may regard you as owning land that is shown as OUTSIDE the red line showing your property on their plan and your neighbour may be regarding as owning land WITHIN your red line! The Land Registry has even been known to register two people as owning the same or overlapping parcels of land. Not LR s Job! It has never been the Land Registry s job to say exactly where the boundary of a title is - that is up to the title owner, their neighbour and (if necessary) the courts to decide. Most properties used to have title deeds that had plans drawn on them but these have been largely lost. Sometimes the plans are accurate and had measurements on them, and can be used to help work out where the boundary is. Usually they were of little help though. Land Registry Red Lines Are Not Boundaries! Working out precisely where the legal boundary of your property is can be surprisingly difficult. Often the red line on the plan from the Land Registry can be misleading, and in some cases it is in completely the wrong place. This is partly because the Land Registry use Ordnance Survey plans and the Ordnance Survey lines often show a group of features (such as a hedge, wall, fence stream and kerb) as just one line, and the line doesn t necessarily represent any one of these features. The line may have been plotted in the wrong place anyway. $ The accuracy of the position of a line is only plus or minus a metre on the normal 1:1250 plan used by Land Registry and often the width of the land in dispute is less than this. So the Land Registry red line only shows a general boundary - it Fortunately arguments about boundaries are uncommon. 1

2 Squatter s rights or boundary error? In some cases it may be that the problem is more than a mistake. It may be that someone has been squatting on their neighbours land for a considerable time and it may be that this occupation may have given them rights to the land. This is often called squatters rights but the legal term is adverse possession. The rules on this are complex. We might need to find out a great deal of information about the history and use of the land before we can advise whether you have gained any rights. Little details often make big differences to the outcomes and matters are rarely as simple as you might expect. Generally, in order to have any chance of claiming Squatter s rights you need at least to deliberately possess the land, meaning that it has to be obvious to everyone that you are using it for yourself and that no-one else can use it. Fencing it in is good proof of possession, but you have to keep the land fenced at all times - and not admit to the actual owner that it is their land, or make a written offer to buy it from them for the whole of the appropriate period of occupation. only shows the general extent, and you should not try to scale from or measure this to work out where your boundary is.$ Key pointers to the correct legal boundary position! The physical position of walls and fences on the land and the history of the land are very important. It is very likely we will have to visit the site before we are able to give any advice on the boundary as photos and drawings can only tell so much. However please let us have any photographs of the boundary as it is now or in the past before we come to inspect the land as this will help us understand how the features relate to the title documents. $ We may be able to offer an opinion on the legal position of the boundary but of course your next door neighbour might not accept this. Similarly a surveyor may be asked to offer and opinion, but the true position might only be clear by combining both legal and surveying inputs. $ Court action should be only used as a last resort! Going to court to resolve a boundary dispute is generally a bad idea as it is costly and unpredictable. It is much better to try and agree something with your adjoining owner or try formal mediation. The Land Registry cannot help you on this - it is up to you to deal with, using legal and surveying advice or ultimately the court system. Often the whole history of your occupation has to be considered to see if you may have acquired squatter s rights. 2

3 Napolean had the right idea? When the system of Land Registration was introduced in 1925 it was decided NOT to insist on the use of accurate plans and the concept of the general boundary rule was introduced to keep costs and complexity to a minimum. In many other European countries, in contrast, plans used for submission to their land registries must be extremely accurate - since they adopted the Napoleonic Cadastral system. However the catch is that their land registration fees for the registration of a transfer alone may be over 10,000, and their system can delay the conveyancing process by months. The English system is therefore quicker, cheaper and more convenient but at the expense of accuracy. In 2002 the Land Registry rules on plans were tightened up and more accurate plan must be used for applications - but the legacy of problems caused by old inaccurate plans and boundaries will be with us for many years to come. What Are The General Legal Principles On Squatter s Rights?! 1 - Squatting on Unregistered Land! If the land is unregistered land then usually 12 years squatting on the land gives the squatter ownership of the land, under the Limitation Act However in some cases it may be necessary to squat on the land for up to 30 years - or even 60 years if it is foreshore land for example. $ The length of time you need to prove you have possessed the land depends on who the owner of the disputed land is. The problem is that if the land isn t registered land it can be difficult to find out who the original owner is - and therefore what the period of time you have to show possession before you can claim any rights. $ For example if you squat on land owned by a limited company the usual period you need to prove you have possessed the land is 12 years - but if the company that owns the land is goes into liquidation then the period of possession you need to prove (against the Crown) becomes 30 years. $ Also, although you might initially persuade the Land Registry to give you Possessory title if you can prove 12 years possession of the land, the true owner might appear and claim the land back if they can show that 12 years wasn t enough time. You might be able to get Title Insurance to cover the loss of the land should this happen.$ 2 - Squatting on Registered Land where you started squatting before October 1991! If the land is Registered Land and you can prove a continuous period of (normally) 12 years of possession expiring before October 2003 then the old Land Registration Act 1925 rules apply, which are similar to squatting on unregistered land. So assuming the land is registered at the Land Registry we can find out who the registered legal owner is and work out whether you need to show 12 or up to 30 or even 60 years possession by that date to make a claim to the title of the land.$ 3

4 Fixing the boundary? You can apply to the Land Registry to fix the boundaries. However you have to first make an application to the Land Registry with supporting evidence and have a very accurate plan prepared. Your adjoining owner is notified. If he accepts this or agrees something else with you then the boundary will be shown as fixed and your plan will be referred to in the register However if he disputes your version of the boundary then once again the courts have to decide where the boundary is before it is shown as fixed on Land Registry plans. This is generally going to be expensive and take considerable time to resolve. Special cases Squatters on registered land who can show 10 years possession up to today s date may have a good case to have the current fence line set as the actual legal boundary where it was reasonable to assume that was the legal boundary - such with new housing estates. There are other special cases too. (continued)! If you can prove you have squatted on the land for the right period of time then you should have a good case, unless the land or the owner happens to be a special case. We would initially make a detailed application to the Land Registry with all the supporting evidence.the Land Registry will notify the registered owner who would be asked if he agrees with your claim. Unfortunately he may dispute your claim and you would have to go to Court to prove your case. This is likely to mean uncertainty, delay and the risk of paying his costs if you lose your claim.$ 3 - Squatting on Registered Land where you started squatting after October 1991!! Thirdly, if the land you are claiming is registered land but you CANNOT show 12 years (or whatever is the appropriate period) expiring before October 2003 but you CAN show 10 years possession up to today s date we might be able to make a claim to the Land Registry under the NEW Squatter s Rights rules under the Land Registration Act $ However you are much less likely to be successful under the new rules. In fact it is impossible to get squatter s rights over some types of land and against some types of land owner. In other cases you might have to show possession for more than 10 years and even up to 60 years! $ If we think you have a good case we can again make an application to the Land Registry for you. The Land Registry will send your application to the registered owner, and the registered owner will be asked if they agree to your claim to the land. If the registered owner agrees to let you have the land then you will become the registered owner. Unfortunately under the new rules, even if you have a good case, unless there is a mistake on the boundary that has caused the problem, or a special case, all the registered owner has to do is object to your application and your application will fail. The Land Registry will then reject your application. The registered owner will then be able to eject you from the land even though you might have been there for 10 or 20 years. (If he doesn t eject you, and you stay on the land then after a further two years you can then make another application, and it is likely to be successful).$ 4

5 Questionnaire - 12 Key Questions As you can see there are lots of factors that need to be considered before we can advise you on on your boundary and whether you can claim squatter s rights. It will help us if you can give us answers to any of the following questions before we discuss your case. 1. Do you have any old deed or documents to your land? These might be called Conveyances or Transfers or you may just have copies of them. If not, where do you think they might be? If you have a mortgage they might be with your bank or building society. Give us their name and address and any mortgage account reference and we can write to them to see if they have anything, though many no longer keep any deeds at all. 2. Do you have copies of any planning permissions or house extension drawings or anything at all that might show the boundaries of your land on it? 3. When did you buy your house or land? Have you always lived there and if not who has lived there? 4. When did you first start using the land over which you want to claim squatter s rights and what did you start using it for? Give us as much details as you can remember and any key dates. You might also, for example, have receipts for work or fencing of the land. 5. What have you done with the land since you first started using it? For example have you built on it, put fences round it, used it as part of your lawn, parked cars on it, put signs up, put animals on it, put a shed or garage on it, put chain link fences round it, put tarmac or paving slabs on it, etc.? 6. If you have ever put a fence round the land can you say approximately on what date you put the fence up? Do you have any proof of this, such as receipts for the fencing work or the purchase of the fence panels? 7. Have you used the land continuously or have you allowed anyone else onto it or has anyone ever tried to argue that it was their land? Please give us as much detail as possible. Is it possible for anyone else other than you to get access to the land? Does anyone ever walk or drive over it other than you or your family and guests? 8. Have you any photographs of the land - either specifically showing the boundary, or which might show the position of the boundary in the background, such as old family photographs. If so, do you know when they were taken? 9. Has anyone ever said that the land is their land and not your land? Have you ever had any discussions with anyone about the land or written or received any letters to or from anyone about it before? Have you ever offered to buy the squatted land from anyone? Have you ever had any advice from anyone about the land before, and if so what did they advise you? 10. Do you have any clues as to who might originally have owned the land, such as a local landowner or the original builder of the houses or estate you live on? 11. Have you any legal expenses insurance and have you ever contacted them about this issue? 12. Are there any pipes or cables or manholes or boxes or street furniture on the land in question - such as lamp posts, post boxes, road signs, etc? Again any photographs you can provide of these will be really helpful to us in deciding the legal boundary of your land and whether you have an arguable case of squatter s right to the land in question. 5

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