Squatter’s title is where a squatter after a certain number of years’ occupation can claim title to the property he has occupied. Technically this is claiming title by “adverse possession”. Where property has a registered title, the squatter must show a minimum ten years’ adverse possession before he can apply to the Land Registry to claim title.
It is a principle of English Law that one cannot claim a right over land where the use relied on to establish the right, is criminal in nature. In September 2012 the government enacted section 144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. This makes trespassing in a residential building a criminal offence.
At the time of the passing of the section, the question was raised as to how this would affect a claim by a squatter for title by adverse possession of a dwelling. As the squatter’s occupation would now be criminal trespass, would this prevent him from obtaining title by adverse possession? The Land Registry’s answer was “yes”. As a result it began to reject applications.
We now have a court decision on this point. In Best v Chief Land Registrar(2014) the High Court has decided that section 144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act does not prevent a squatter claiming title by adverse possession of a dwelling.
So what can a property owner do to protect themselves against a trespasser acquiring the title to their land? The decision in Best does not deprive the owner of the protections under the Land Registration Act 2002 against losing title to trespassers. In general if a trespasser applies to register title to your land, you can prevent him if you respond appropriately once the Land Registry notifies you of the application.