Can I claim ownership of land I have used for 20 years?

22 April 2013

Huw Worthington of Worthingtons Solicitors advises on when it may be possible to make an application for adverse possession of land.

As the saying goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law.  In short, what this means is that it is easier to claim ownership of land if in possession of the land than not in possession of the land.

Generally speaking, if you have been occupying lands that you do not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use in excess of 12 years (or in the case of Crown lands 30 years), without any objection from the registered owner, you can claim what is known as “adverse possession”.

This law of adverse possession was formalised in Northern Ireland in the Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989. However, it is not as simple as relying solely on the fact you have been  occupying the lands to claim ownership.

Certain tests must be met before you can proceed to make an application to become registered as the owner.  You actually have to be treating the lands as your own to the exclusion of others.  In other words you must show:

(a) factual possession and

(b) intention to possess.

To demonstrate factual possession there must be physical control.  Have you tended the lands, or fenced them off or installed any fixtures and fittings?

To demonstrate intention to possess you must exclude all others including the rightful owner.

It is important to ask a solicitor to check the identity of the registered owner of the lands that you are occupying, if that is not already known.

Applications to the Land Registry are normally made by solicitors under what is termed a Section 53 Application and legal advice should be sought before embarking on the application.

*This advice relates to property matters in Northern Ireland only*

Specialising in Land Law and Conveyancing matters, Huw Worthington is head of the Property  department of Worthingtons Solicitors.

Should you have any queries in relation to this article, please submit your enquiry in the form below and a member of our conveyancing department will be happy to contact you to discuss. 

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