As land prices continue to increase, so do the volume of disputes in respect of the ownership of land.  One issue which is often present in the news is that of adverse possession or squatters rights.

Last year there was a case involving Marcus Heaney, a property consultant, who went to war with pensioners Hilary and Edward Kirkby over the patch of grass in Thorp Arch, near Wetherby, West Yorkshire.

Mrs Kirkby claimed a right to the land saying that, despite not legally owning it, she had always tended to it as "her garden", where she cut grass and planted flowers.  She and her 70-year-old husband ended up in court when, in February 2012, their wealthy neighbour, who had earlier removed their fence, registered the verge as his own.

The case originally went before the First-Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal in 2014 and 2015, culminating in a ruling that Mrs Kirkby was the owner.  Mr Heaney was left facing a bill estimated at more than £250,000.

The Kirkbys had bought their property in 1999 and embarked on a restoration project, converting it into a home.  The untidy verge, then covered in bushes, was not part of the property, but the couple set about "beautifying" it and installing two car parking spaces.  After bringing in 12 tons of topsoil, they seeded the verge with grass and put in place a coping stone.

In February 2012, Mr Heaney, who owns a property on the other side of a narrow lane, acquired "paper title" to the verge.  He immediately told the Kirkbys to "make no further use of it, whether for parking or otherwise".  Mrs Kirkby responded in April the same year by applying to have the verge transferred into her name and thus the legal battles ensued.  Hilary Kirkby had been found to own the land by 'adverse possession'.

Each case for adverse possession is unique on its facts.  The law dictates it is a case of looking as to who has acted as the owner of the land for 12 years or more.  To claim title by adverse possession, a claimant needs to prove uninterrupted factual possession of the land by the claimant for at least 12 years and an intention on the part of the claimant to possess the land during that period of possession.

There are many common law authorities in respect of adverse possession which can assist if the facts are similar to any case you may face.  For example in J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd and Ors v Graham and Anor [2002] UKHL 30 (4 July 2002) locks to the gates located on the land in question was a point of relevance in ascertaining the level of control over the land by the 'squatter' and the extent to which they sought to exclude others, thus ascertaining exclusive use.  The squatter had installed locks and only he had the keys to the locks on the gates.  The Judge was satisfied this was evidence of an intention to be the legal owner of the land to the exclusion of others.

In assessing the merits of a claim in adverse possession the court will look at the individual facts of the case.  These cases are not cheap to bring or defend if contested.  Therefore before embarking on a claim or defending a claim it is suggested you seek legal advice.  If you intend to bring a claim for adverse possession or defend a claim brought against your land then please do get in touch.