The difficulty of making an adverse possession of registered land
The difficulty of making an adverse possession of registered land has been highlighted in the case of Dowse vs City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council.
Adverse possession is the process by which a person who is not the legal owner of the land can become the legal owner by claiming to possess the land for a specified period of time.
If a registered owner objects to an adverse possession claim then the person claiming adverse possession can only succeed if they can prove one of three grounds: that it would be unconscionable, that the land in question is adjacent to land belonging to the applicant or where for some other reason the claimant is entitled to be the registered proprietor.
The recent case of Dowse and another v City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council  concerned the second “adjacent land” ground. In order to successfully argue it, all of the following must be established:
- That the land in question is adjacent to land belonging to the applicant;
- That the exact boundary line between the two had not been determined;
- That for ten years or more before making the application, the applicant or their predecessor reasonably believed that the land belonged to them; and
- That the land had been registered at the Land Registry at least a year before the adverse possession claim was made.
These conditions were satisfied on a literal interpretation in this case. Nonetheless, the judge still dismissed the claim, ruling that the land concerned could not all be deemed to be adjacent to land belonging to the applicant as only a small part of it was. For the “adjacent land” ground to be established, “The whole or substantially the whole of the disputed land would have to be capable of being described as adjacent to the applicant’s land…”
This case therefore emphasises that a contested adverse possession claim of registered land will not succeed unless one of the three grounds of opposition can be proven and these grounds are themselves only likely to apply in very limited situations.
There is some comfort in the implication from this case and others, however, that the record of land ownership at the Land Registry is largely definitive.
Fenella Eddell is a solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee, Suffolk solicitors.