Many still believe the 7 year boundary rule in the UK means you can claim ownership over land you have been using for 7 years.  However, this is a legal misnomer; the  real answer to the question “what is the 7 year boundary rule?” is that just like a common law spouse, it is a myth.  It should actually be known as the 10-12 year boundary rule.

Or more correctly, adverse possession.

To make a claim for adverse possession, the land must have been used – continuously and exclusively – for a period of 10-12 years by the party looking to establish their ownership of the land.   

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession comes under the Limitation Act 1980 and the Land Registration Act 2002

It allows someone who is not the original owner of a piece of land to gain legal ownership over the land on the basis they have been using it without the owner’s permission (this is the ‘adverse’ part) for a set length of time.  This is generally 10 -12 years under the current legalisation.

Adverse possession cases involve a delicate balance between meeting the legislative demands as set out in the Limitation Act 1980 and the Land Registration Act 2002 and providing the required evidence to support the claim and what can be considered the fairest outcome for both parties.

To make a claim you will need to follow a very specific legal process:

  • You must provide evidence you have been in possession of the land without the owner’s permission for 10-12 years depending on whether the land is registered or unregistered.
  • You must be able to show your possession was continuous.
  • You will be asked to provide supporting evidence to prove both the previous criteria, this could be in the form of utility bills or even time stamped photographs showing your use of the land over time.
  • You can then make an application for adverse possession to the Land Registry.  If this is successful, you could be granted an initial possessory title for the land.
  • You must then wait for the landowner’s response.  If they challenge your claim for adverse possession, you may find you need to support your claim in a Property Tribunal.

It is also important to note that while adverse possession claims have always been complex, recent changes to the law have made it even more difficult to claim adverse possession in the UK, especially if the land has already been registered with the Land Registry.  These changes have been made to offer landowners more protection and to ensure those seeking an adverse possession receive a fair hearing.

This means that you should consult an experienced property lawyer to work out whether progressing a claim for adverse possession is possible.  They will be able to analyse the circumstances surrounding the case and provide you with an assessment as to both the strength and the likely cost of making your claim.

If you believe you are entitled to claim ownership of a piece of land in the ground of adverse possession and would like to talk it through with one of the experienced property barristers in our Civil Law team, please contact us today.

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