A High Court Judge has warned landowners to refrain from taking the law into their own hands when seeking to evict squatters.
Justice Frank Seepersad gave the advice onMonday as he determined a land dispute between Paramin farmer Mark Nicholas and landowner Nigel Cyrus over a one-acre parcel of land in Maraval.
While Seepersad ruled that Nicholas did not obtain title to the land through adverse possession, he did find that Cyrus trespassed on the land when he demolished Nicholas’ wooden shack, fruit trees and short-term crops without a court order last year.
“If he thought that he had title to the land, this is not the wild west and we live in a country where the rule of law operates. He ought to have come before the court and get an order for possession,” Seepersad said.
Although he noted that property owners are empowered to enforce their property rights without judicial intervention under the remedy of self-help, he stated that it did not apply in the case.
“Self-help is only available in the clearest of circumstances, where somebody moves on to your land yesterday and you come today and have them removed,” he said.
According to the evidence in the case, Nicholas claimed that he began occupying the land at Morne Coco Road in Maraval 37 years ago, after he was granted permission to grow short-term crops on it.
In 1989, Nicholas was told he was in breach of the lease, as he had planted fruit trees and constructed the wooden structure. Nicholas remained in possession of the land until 2020, when Cyrus moved to forcibly evict him.
In determining the case, Seepersad ruled that Nicholas could not benefit from adverse possession, as he had not clearly defined the parcel of land he was claiming control of by fencing or demarcating it.
He also ruled that while Nicholas claimed that he installed an extensive irrigation system on the land, he failed to produce evidence of it.
In deciding on the compensation Nicholas should receive for the damage to his structure and crops, Seepersad rejected a $150,000 valuation, as he noted that the valuator did not give evidence before him to be deemed as an expert.
In the absence of the evidence, Seepersad ordered $15,000 in nominal damages.
Nicholas was represented by Keon Gonzales.