Last update: 09-Dec-2013 1:43 am
Monday, December 09, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
You are here
When a ‘squatter’ can claim land ownership
Adverse possession, commonly referred to as “squatters rights,” is a legal rule that allows the occupier of a piece of land to obtain ownership of it if they can prove uninterrupted and exclusive possession of the land of another for at least 16 years in the case of an individual, and 30 years in the case of the State.
Adverse possession requires certain conditions to be met in order to perfect the adverse possessor’s title.
1. Actual possession
The adverse possessor must physically use the land as a property owner would, in accordance with the type of property, location, and uses. Examples include, clearing, mowing, planting, harvesting fruit of the land, cutting timber, fencing, running livestock and constructing buildings and other improvements. Paying taxes does not establish actual possession, but may be admitted by the court as evidence of claim of right. The true owner’s payment of taxes does not affect the adverse possessor’s actual possession.
2. Intention to possess
In addition to factual possession, the adverse possessor must provide evidence that he had the necessary “intention to possess.” He must show that he intended to take the land for himself, not to share it with the previous owner, or to use it without the previous owner’s consent. This might be inferred if a person takes possession of a house and changes the locks, or if a person moves a fence, or puts a lock on a gate.
3. Open and notorious
The adverse possessor’s use of the property must be so visible and apparent that it gives notice to the legal owner that someone may assert a claim. The actions must be of such character that would give notice to a reasonable person. If the legal owner has knowledge, this element is met. It can also be met by fencing, posted signs, crops, buildings, or animals that a diligent owner could be expected to know about.
The adverse possessor must hold the land to the exclusion of the true owner. Anyone who enters the land with the permission of the true owner fails to have exclusive possession.
The adverse possessor must also show that his possession was “adverse” or “without permission’. A person cannot claim “adverse possession” if he or she has permission to use somebody else’s land. Therefore a tenant cannot establish adverse possession against his landlord, as he lives in the property by express permission.
The adverse possessor must show that property was held continuously for the requisite time period. Occasional activity on the land with long gaps in activity will fail the test of continuous possession. If the adverse possessor is removed from the land and after some time returns and dispossesses the true owner again, then the limitation period (16 or 30 years) starts over from the time of the adverse possessor’s return.
A squatter may, however, pass along continuous possession to another squatter. In such a case, the number of years the land was possessed by the previous squatter is added on to the new squatter’s period of possession.
• This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.