ADVERSE POSSESSION There is a stretch of land that has long since been abandoned, overgrown (with some self-seeded trees) and covered in fly-tipped rubbish - there are no buildings on this land (about 1 acre) I have pictures of the land since 1974 in which is it not being cared for. - It is not registered at the Land Registry. - The Council told me repeatedly that they did not own it (I have a copy of their GIS map for the area where lands they think they own are outlined - it is NOT 100% reliable) - It is not registered as Common Land or a Town or Village Green - In a planning application made many years ago for part of the land, the applicant (Housing Association) stated in the application that they were NOT the Owner, Prospective Purchaser or Lessee After reading a great deal about Adverse Possession and spending extensive amounts of time trying to track down any owner - correspondence with / visit to the Land Registry and communications with several departments of the Council, I came to the conclusion that Adverse Possession would be a process worthwhile undertaking over the next 12 years (I have already lived here 20 years) On starting to plant a hedge around the site, the Council came and said they believed they owned the land - they checked their GIS system which seemed to show that they did NOT own the land. At that time they asked us not to do any work on what their GIS system suggested was their land (a corner), but the Council Officer said we could continue on the part (majority) that the GIS system said was not theirs A councillor then became angry with this, and they have now gone away to undertaking what they have termed "an exhaustive search for any title papers". This was over 2 weeks ago, they have refused to tell me how long this might take and have not, as yet come forth with any paper titles... They have "ordered" me to cease all works until they have completed this "exhaustive search" and have suggested they may be able to have me arrested and prosecuted for criminal damage if I proceed and they find they own the land - the Police, on the other hand, have said they consider this a civil matter and do not want involvement. I have 415 hedge plants and 20 cherry trees that will perish if not planted soon. Who knows if they will find any title papers or not - their archives are huge and they could have something gathering dust in the depths somewhere. I fear also, that they may be seeking to buy time to seek to find another way to block my project (which has a large element of trying to improve the area we live in for our community - I will plant and tend for hedges, cherry trees, daffodils grass etc). They have suggested they might seek to impose a tree preservation order (there are no trees that come close to justifying a TPO), or ban me from proceeding due to a patch of Japanese Knotweed (which I have eradicated according to the Environment Agency code of practice and guidance) etc My Questions 1) What would a "reasonable amount of time" be for them to find any titles they may have? I am aware that they actually would be entitled to produce their title any time over the next 12 years - but I can't allow this "exhaustive search" process to run indefinitely Could we legally plant the small (30cm high) hedge plants etc while waiting? - they would be easy to pull out if they find any titles over the next few months. 2) In order to adversely possess a piece of land you must erect a fence, plant a hedge, build a wall or similar way to "exclude the world at large" and cut the grass, cultivate the land etc. But to what extent could such actions (including felling unexceptional self-seeded trees) be considered "criminal damage" and to what extent could the Council sue for financial compensation IF they finally manage to find some title document or other? (over the next 12 years) My understanding is that for anything to be a crime, there must be "intent" - ie: I knew we were breaking the law - would this be correct in this situation? 3) Their GIS Map shows a corner of land that they might have a title for. But it is not clear from their GIS Map exactly where the boundary lies. If we plant a hedge, erect a fence or whatever and it is finally concluded that this was in the wrong place - specifically encroaches into their land, would this count as criminal damage and/or could they seek financial compensation for this unintentional act? Unfortunately the Council have only been willing to initiate this "exhaustive search" once I started clearing the headland for the hedge - I had exhausted all enquiries I could make as an outsider prior to starting to plant the hedge Please can you let me know how you might be able to help me at this stage in the Adverse Possession process Thanks XXXXX XXXX XXXXXX
You cannot claim adverse possession at the Land Registry.
It is necessary to adversely possess a piece of land first for 12 years, then you apply for the land to be registered in your name on the basis that you can demonstrate you have adversely possessed it for 12 years (the land is not registered to anyone at the LR at present)
Can you pass the enquirey on to a solicitor who has experience in such matters.
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...
NB: I posted this question twice - once for a fee of £33 and another time for £60.
I am willing to pay a good fee for a good answer (detailed and authoratative) - ie: £60+
I have just received the 2nd part to your answer - the idea of a "Freedom of Information Act 2000" request is a great one - do I just write a simple letter to them entitling it Freedom of Information request or is there some special wording or form required?
I had posted an answer to the 1st half of your answer above, but I can see it above, so here it is again:
Thank you for your answer - it is reassuringIt was difficult not to postpone the works, as the local Councillor went "ballistic", screamed at the Police who said they would arrest us if we continued. This was on a Saturday. We had been verbally told by Council officers that they did not own the land and we could continue, but they forgot to inform the Councillor of this.The Councillor and Policeman were acting on ignorance - ignorance of Adverse Possession and ignorance of the ownership status of the land.Our local copper, PC XXXXX XXXXX, came to visit me the following Tuesday. He has experienced "adverse possession" before and knew broadly the modus operandi and that it was not a criminal matter in most cases - and that the Council could do nothing without Deeds etc. Paul and I know each other well for many, many years. He knows I am always extremely thorough about such matters.The Council have been trying to get a Housing Association or Private Housebuilder to develop the wasteland. There was even planning permission obtained in 2005 (in which the Housing Association stated they were not owner, prospective purchaser or Lessee). I think the local Councillors "assumed" that because the Council was trying to get someone to develop the land, that the Council must surely own the land. In fact the Council were trying to exploit the same Adverse Possession rules I am, in order to do this. The Councillor just does not know what Adverse Possession is and finds it hard to believe that such a process can be legal...I have had a number of communications with the Council on the subject or Ownership, by phone, email and post. I have never acknowledged they own the land, just said if you have proof show me and we will vacate the land as soon as we see valid deeds etc, but that otherwise this land and what we do on it, is none of your business.They have tried to assert that we might need planning permission, there may be tree preservation orders, touching the Knotweed maybe a criminal offence etc, but I have checked all these points and rebuffed them.I posted and emailed a formal (from my LTD company), but friendly/gentle letter, asking them to provide us with any Deeds by Thursday so that we may or not proceed with planting the trees. I have received an acknowledgement by email today stating "My apologies for the delay, i will contact the officer dealing with the matter in the City Solicitor's Division today.Thank you for your patience." I will not chase them anymore. I am having everything delivered on Thursday to proceed on Friday and Saturday. I may well email PC XXXXX XXXXX, so that the Police know, just in case the Councillor goes ballistic again!
I have set up this LTD company (actually established in 2009) and am routing the work through this - both to provide me with some personal limit of liability re the Council and any other pretender to ownership over the next 12 years. Do you think this will work? A different solicitor seemed to think they may choose to chase me personally for liability regardless (if they fid ownership deeds)
The next few day and to a lesser extent weeks will be critical. I would like to be able to post questions for you during this time - but I am not sure how to proceed as far as payment goes. Should I pay for a subscription or pay per answer - which is best for you?
I have just received a response to the "gentle" letter we sent the Council's Corporate Property department in which we had invited them to show any deeds they had by the 21st March (21 days after they said they would start the search) so that we may or not proceed with the hedge etc planting.
Their reply was:
1) They have been too busy to do the search and plot their ownership
2) The legal case officer is on holiday until early April so they will not be able to respond until 15th April (the same deadline as the FOIA request I have just lodged with them! - and 1.5 months from when they started their "expedited" search)
3) They thank us for our patience in this matter.
This is obviously an unacceptable delay. Given your previous comments about our need to assert our control of the land in an unbroken fashion for 12 years etc and not concede to any control of theirs, it would now seem that we should proceed with the planting without seeking their permission in any way.
The question for me is only:
1) Do we ask their permission, and then proceed? (presumably not)
2) Do we simply inform them that we will proceed? (and sort the exact boundries out later - easily done)
3) Do we simply proceed without seeking even to inform them? - maybe a Councillor will blow off some steam, but this would be without justification.
I think we will now hire a digger, remove 3 tree stumps and root (we already cut down the trees 3 weeks ago) and plant our hedge and cherry trees - starting Thursday till Saturday. We will not fell any more trees etc
The work we plan would not seem to constitute any real damage they could sue us for and I could afford it even if they tried. And it would be readily reversable. They will not be in any position to apply for any costly injunctions or the like for some weeks, so this is not a real risk.
There are no tree preservation orders, we are not committing an offence re the Japanese Knotweed and the police won't arrest us for criminal damage...
There now seems little reason not to proceed - not that you think we should ever have stopped in the first place - the question is only do we inform the Council of our intent or say nothing at all?
Please let me know what you think
PS: I also note that their email states that they have not had time to plot their exact ownership boundaries - not that they have not had enough time to look for Deeds - this would suggest that they have doen the Deed search and it has come up relatively empty (a corner of the land might belong to them according to their GIS system)
PPS: I am going to phone your service about payments, subscriptions etc now
Yes, but should I inform them first or just do it
Is there any inherent element of asking their permission in the process of simply informing them?
I will ask this question again in the form of a new question, so that you know you will get more than just the £33 this initial question was set at.
Thank you very much - you have demonstrated more experience and given more practical input than anyone so far from any of the solicitors I have approached in Manchester