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wingrovebuyer, Senior Solicitor
Category: Property Law
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Experience:  Bachelor of Laws (Honours); PG Diploma in Law; Member of ALA; 9 years' experience
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ADVERSE POSSESSIONThere is a stretch of land that has long

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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

Thanks for your question, my name isXXXXX will do whatever I can to help you today.

Have you tried to claim adverse posession at land registry ?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

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.



Hello. I notice you opted out and UKJustice has not responded further. Do you still require assistance? I am very familiar with adverse possession, but this actually seems more like a question about the actions of the council.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

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...




Andrew XXXX

Customer: replied 5 years ago.

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+



Thank you. You seem very familiar with the adverse possession "rules", so I won't go over them, as what you've said is all correct. However, "tending" land is sometimes a grey area as to whether or not the possession is sufficient, and so planting the hedge and excluding use by others is essential, in additional to other acts of ownership and possession such as removing trees etc.

I woukd say that The council may be claiming an interest in the land, but the important thing is that you do not acknowledge it. By postponing your works, you have arguably shown deference to the council, and so if it turns out they are the owners, the clock for adverse possession may only run from now rather than from two years ago, because you may have inadvertently reset it.

That said, I don't think you need to delay mattes further. Clearly the council does not have proof of its ownership. Their own GiS system would be based on land registration information, and evidently the land isn't registered. Obviously, this could have been an oversight on the council's part, but it certainly suggests to me that they don't have any deeds regarding this land.

Personally, I would continue with the work you have been doing. Clearing waste land and planting nice trees and hedges is not, in my view, criminal damage. Certainly, it could be a trespass, but the council would have to prove ownership of the land to claim a trespass on it, and they haven't
and they haven't been able to do this to date. If you continue with the works and nothing happens, then you have your answer! If they subsequently pull a deed out of the hat, I seriously doubt they would bother to take legal action against you for the works, especially if you can simply remove the hedge and trees. In any event, the works sound like an improvement rather than a damage.

To your two questions:

1. I think you have been more than reasonable, to the point that you may actually have delayed your AP claim by two years. What you could do, to put on a bit more pressure, is demand copies of any deeds held by the council and relating to the land under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. That way, the council is obliged to send copies, or deny they have any such deeds, within 21 days. That way, they couldn't drag things out beyond another three weeks.

2. AP is by its very nature a "trespass". It is simply a trespass that becomes lawful after a period of time. In most AP claims I've worked on, the paper owner has only ever sued for possession, not for damage to the land. In one, a trespasser had broken into a bund containing asbestos, and he did have to pay to have this restored, but generally the paper owner will not see any point in suing for works done by the trespasser because they are generally improvements. If you are concerned, I'd suggest you only plant things which are easily removed, whilst doing enough to maintain the claim n the future.


Customer: replied 5 years ago.

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 reassuring
It 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?


Andrew XXXX


Hello. Thanks. Not sure about the subscription question, as we only answer legal questions forwarded to us, but if you contact customer services they should be able to help. I'd be happy to help further if you'd like me to.

With regard to the FOI request, send a letter to the council's FOI officer, and ask for the copy deeds or any other paperwork relating to this land, clearly stating it is a request made under the FOI 2000. That should stir things up a little!

With regard to a corporate possessor, I'm not sure this will work, because the company won't be in physical possession, you will. The only way this could work is if the company grants you a tenancy. You then occupy the site but pay rent to the company, even nominal rent, and then it can be said to be in receipt of the rents and profits. I think a company can only claim possession if it has actively worked from the site - ie occupied a building as its trading premises.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.


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

You have identified the potential risks and if you accept them then yes, proceed with the works. As I said, earlier, stopping the works was inconsistent with a claim to AP anyway, so the sooner you start again the better from that point of view. As you say, if they magically produce some deeds proving ownership, nothing you are doing should really lead to any costly repairs, and it's nothing you can't personally undo. Without deeds, they'd be very foolish to apply for an injunction.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

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



That's very kind, thanks!
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

Yes, but should I inform them first or just do it

I Have responded through the other open question. Best wishes, WB.
wingrovebuyer, Senior Solicitor
Category: Property Law
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Experience: Bachelor of Laws (Honours); PG Diploma in Law; Member of ALA; 9 years' experience
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