Letting Your Land Go to Rack and Ruin is an Invitation to Squatters

Letting your land stand vacant, going to rack and ruin, inevitably carries the risk that a squatter will obtain title to it. A woman who inherited a small but strategic strip of land from her builder father came within an ace of suffering that fate.

The strip was deliberately retained by the woman's father after his firm constructed a small housing estate in the 1970s. Following its transfer to her, the woman, who lived many miles away, took little or no interest in it. After it became overgrown by weeds, a resident of the estate incorporated the unfenced strip into her garden, laying turf and decorating it with shrubs and pots.

Claiming adverse possession rights over the strip, the resident applied to have legal title to it registered in her name under the Land Registration Act 2002. She claimed to have occupied the strip as of right, and without the registered owner's permission, for more than 10 years. After the woman objected to her application, the matter was referred to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) for resolution.

The FTT found that the resident and/or her husband had sought and obtained the consent of the woman's father to tidy and tend the strip shortly after they moved onto the estate in 1975. The resident had thereafter taken factual possession and control of the strip. She had, however, failed to establish that she had the required intent to take exclusive possession of the strip throughout the 10-year period prior to her application.

She had never challenged anyone else's use of the strip and, when a third party queried who owned it in 2018, she had referred him to the building firm once run by the woman's father. She had never believed, whether reasonably or otherwise, that the strip belonged to her. The FTT directed the Chief Land Registrar to cancel the resident's application to have the strip transferred into her name.