Landowners who neglect or fail to make use of their properties put themselves at risk of losing them to squatters. In a recent case on this subject, a woman faced a neighbour's claim that he was entitled to her field, having cut the grass for years.
The neighbour alleged that he first entered the field in 2002 in order to pick fruit, and swiftly formed the intention of taking possession of it. He said that he thereafter treated the field as his own. He and his nephew cut down scrub and grass, removed trees and lit bonfires on the property.
In 2017, he applied to the Land Registry to have the field registered in his name on the basis that he had been in continuous possession of it for more than 12 years, thus acquiring adverse possession rights. His application was, however, hotly resisted by the woman and a number of other local residents. The dispute was referred to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) for resolution.
In ruling on the matter, the FTT noted that there was undisguised animosity between some of the witnesses in the case. The neighbour's ex-wife was amongst those who gave evidence against him, and there was clearly no love lost between him and the woman who had paper title to the field.
Noting serious inconsistencies in the neighbour's self-serving evidence, the FTT was swayed by the impressive testimony of a local farmer, who said that he kept sheep on the field until 2009 or 2010. Even on the neighbour's own case, his use of the field had been essentially covert and he had not made his intention to possess it clear to the world.
The FTT was satisfied that the neighbour only began using the field in 2017. He had at no point taken factual possession of the property, nor had he formed an intention to do so, and he had therefore not acquired so-called 'squatters' rights'. The Land Registry was directed to cancel his application.