I would still very much like help.
Adverse possession is a messy way (quasi-legal) to resolve a messy problem (land abandonned by an unknown owner). I understand how to adversely possess land (the beginning of the process) and how to get the Land Registry to register the land after 12 years of adverse possession.
My problem is in the middle - dealing with people who claim ownership - founded or unfounded. And how to minimise/handle the risk of claims by any owner of damage (civil or criminal).
The Council confirmed many times that they did not own the land - but a local Councillor seems to have "assumed" or been given a false impression that the Council did actually own the land. He became irrate when he saw us starting to clear and hive off the land and demanded that Council Officers undertook an "exhaustive search" to try and find papers suggesting they owned the land.
They have asked me not to do any more work on he land until they have completed their exhaustive search. The suggestion has been that if we proceed now, and then later they find deeds for some or all of it, that their civil claim will be much higher.
However, they have refused to give me any timescale for such a search, even though I have a large number of hedge plants etc that will die otherwise.
I have written a "gentle" letter to them inviting them to show me anything they might have found by the 21st March (21 days after they started the search) so that we may or not proceed with the planting.
My compromise is this:
- We have cut down trees around the perimeter (the main potential "damage")
- We will not cut any more trees down or remove any roots/stumps so no more significant damage could be said to be done (until the uncertainty is cleared up)
- We will plant a row of hedge plants (dig a small trench, mix compost and ferrtiliser with soil in it and plant the hedge plants) which we can easily pluck out if they ever find any deeds etc on Friday and Saturday.
They have made a number of "scary" threats - to get us arrested (the police have said it is a civil matter), that there are tree preservation orders on the land (there are not), that we will need planning permission to plant a hedge (we don't), that we could be committing a criminal act disturbing some Japanese Knotweed that WE have been treating (the Environment Agency says we are doing a great and legal job) etc.
The uncertainty lies in the outcome of their search
- If they find deeds, then at that point they can demand we stop, we revert things, we pay compensation
- While they have not found any deeds, they cannot have any say about what we do with the land.
Actually, they have 12 years to find any Deeds.
I doubt they will ever give us a letter that says they they definitively do not own the land - just tell us that they have not managed to find anything yet and reminding us that if ever they did, that we would be liable for damages if we proceed.
My immediate questions are:
1) Is my approach reasonable - give them 3 weeks to find deeds, they just plant the hedges, then a while later (maybe once they come back with results of their exhaustive search) continue to clear trees, stumps, roots etc (trusting they have not found any deeds)?
2) How can I minimise the risk of claims for damage if some or all of the land turns out eventually (soon or over the forthcoming years) to belong to the Council (or anyone else for that matter)?
Is there a way that one should seek to behave while adversely possessing land that a court might in some way approve and so consider damage was not intentional or was minimal etc?
The land is wasteland / scrub that has become a fly-tippers paradise over the years. We seek to remove the scrub / self-seeded trees, revert it back to grass (like a local park), plant a hedge around the perimeter, with cherry trees, dafodils etc - ie: we seek to improve the land, not "damage" it - though I understand that changing anything without the owner's permission could be seen as "damage" - even planting a dafodil bulb!
Later on I may need to get your advice about making sure we have indeed "adversely possessed" the land
- I am aware that any hint of "permission" from the council could undermine the "adverse" element of the possession (which we may only discover after 12 years)
- I want to make sure that we have enough proof and actual factual possession of the land as per Land Registry requirements - we will cut down the trees, plant and tend grass, plant and trim a 5 foot hedge around the perimeter, plant cherry trees, dafodils etc - is this enough? We started this process 2 years ago with the treatment process of the Japanese Knotweed etc
A penny for yout thoughts...