Landmark ruling on Squatters’ Rights

Beth-Laidler-548-BW

Beth Laidler

A squatter has won a landmark victory for “squatters’ rights” after applying for possession of a property in Ilford, East London, on the basis that he had been in “adverse possession” for a period of 10 years ending on the date he made his application.

Facts of the Case

The property belonged to Doris Curtis, a widow who died in 1988 aged 88. Mr Best was working in a nearby property where the owner mentioned that Doris has died and her son had not been seen since 1996. He then entered the property and began renovating it, treating the home as his own since 2001 but only moved in at the beginning of 2012.                                     

In November 2012 the Chief Land Registrar blocked Mr Best’s application because he said that section 144(1) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPOA) has made residential squatting a crime, instead of just a civil offence, since September 2012.

Judgment

The High Court, however, ruled that the registrar’s decision was founded on an error of law and must be quashed, even though Mr Best had been committing an offence of trespass since section 144 came into force.

The Judge ruled that section 144 was not intended to deal with the old laws of adverse possession but was designed to help people, like those who went on holiday and found that squatters had moved into their home in their absence.

In this case there had been no disputes about his possession of the property and he occupied it without anyone’s consent. The Court ruled that Mr Best should, therefore, be allowed to keep living in the property.

The Judge did, however, give the Registrar permission to appeal after describing Mr Best as a “guinea pig” test case which is expected to affect many other cases.

This decision is, if not successfully appealed, a reminder of the risk of leaving vacant or empty properties unchecked or maintained for more than 10 years.

Beth Laidler
Solicitor
Commercial Property Department
BLaidler@LawBlacks.com
0113 227 9209

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