Squatters & Adverse Possession

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What is a Squatter – What is Adverse Possession?

We often get asked what is meant by ‘adverse possession’ or what is often called ‘squatters title’.

‘Squatters title’ can happen where a landowner dies but no one does the legal work required to pass ownership to the person entitled.  It can also happen where someone deliberately takes possession of land owned by someone else.

Adverse possession is based, not surprisingly, on the act of taking exclusive possession of land owned by another person for a fixed period of time.

It has been a feature of our legal system for some time.

In Roman times, someone who was in possession without the title could become a lawful owner if the original owner did not appear after a set number of years. At the time of setting up the Napoleonic Code this was adopted as the basis of law in France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, and also, in part, by the Netherlands and Germany. In England the first Act of Parliament limiting the right to recover possession of land was as far back as 1623.

It has been the law in Ireland for centuries that a person claiming possession had to show possession of the land for a continuous period ie a certain number of years (60, 50 or 30 depending on the kind of claim made) before the date of the claim.

It is not, however, as simple as taking possession.

5 Legal Principles of Adverse Possession in Ireland.

We can glean a number of principles from our case law.

This is subject to the usual rider that each case depends on it own facts. 

1.      In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the owner of property on paper is deemed to be in possession of the property.

2.      The squatter must prove both factual possession and an intention to be in possession.

Factual possession is proven by an appropriate degree of physical control.

The paper owner and a squatter cannot both be in possession at the same time and the squatter has a higher onus to prove his/her case.

The question of what is exclusive possesion by a squatter is a matter of proof.  It is fact dependant – each case will be decided on the fact presented to the Court.  The Court will look at the type land involved and how that land is commonly used and enjoyed.

3.  The squatter must be in continuous possession for a period of 12 years.

4. Minimal acts of possession by a paper owner will be enough to establish that time does not run ? what does this mean for example, carrying out repairs or insuring the property.

5. However, if 12 years adverse possession is proven, the paper owner cannot reactivate a claim to ownership.

The questions

There are a number of  questions that can be asked.

Is there a continuous period of 12 years during which the squatter was in exclusive possession of property, showing their  intention to possess the property?

Was the period of possession broken by any act of possession by the paper owner?

Was the squatter farming the land openly and transparently, and in a way that is clearly inconsistent with the interest of the paper owner?

As one judge recently put it “ The adverse user must be of a definite and positive character and such as could leave no doubt in the mind of a landowner alerted to his rights that the occupation first of his title was taking place’. In other words, the actions of the adverse user or squatter must clearly show the legal landowner that their ownership of their land is under threat?

The advice to all properties owners is to continue to exercise control over property owned so as to avoid adverse possession claims.

The advice to persons looking after Wills is to complete any ownership transfer to avoid someone claiming ownership by long possession.

The advice to the squatter is that if they act openly without the permission of the owner and have exclusive possession for 12 years they may acquire ownership if the owner does nothing to prove possession during that 12 year period.

But, and there is always a but, each case has to be proven on its particular facts.

Contact Us

For further advice or if you wish to discuss any other legal area please contact [email protected] or telephone 052-6124344.

The material in this Blog is provided for general information purposes only and does not amount to legal or other professional advice. While every care has been taken in the preparation of the information, we advise you to seek specific advice on any legal decision or course of action.

26 Comments to “ Squatters & Adverse Possession”

  1. Julie says :Reply

    I divorced my husband 5 years ago he left the family home nearly 7 years prior to our divorce. He was the sole purchaser of the home my name was never on the deeds of the property. He has since married again and had a further child. In the divorce i lost any rights to the property however i did gain the right to remain in the family home till our youngest child finishes his education. I am aware that my ex has no insurance on the property to cover the costs of repairs on the roof. Which leads me to believe he has only basic insurance on his mortgage. Our youngest child is 12yrs old now and we may possibly have access to the home for a further 6 to possibly 10 years., then we as a family and i as an indiidual will have no more legal access/rights as such to stay at the home . My query is do i have any further rights of residency in the family home after this time lapse? Can i claim squatters rights?? Or is it simply that i must walk away from the home ive lived in for 14 plus years?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      The quick answer is that if there is a Court order on your Divorce, you must comply its terms.

  2. Fintan says :Reply

    A local woman died without making a Will, she was a spinster and had no immediate blood relatives.
    A neighbouring farmer has moved on to the decesed womans land, and has been farming on it for circa ~4 years. post the womans passing.

    I am a concerned local of both the deceased woman and the neighbouring farmer, I have a few questions;
    1) how do I prevent adverse posession in this case?
    2) how do I notify the Irish State that this woman has died intestate? or how do they not know in the first instance?
    3) why have the state not taken posession of these assets pursuant to the Sucessions Act 1965?
    4) what can I do as a third party in this case? I would like to act on this immediately.

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      This is a very fact specific query. I will need more information. I will someone in the Firm to contact you.

  3. Frank Quinn says :Reply

    My brother in law moved back home to live with his mother four and a half years ago. Can he acquire any rights to her house if he lives there long enough ?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      If he has moved in by agreement, the issue of adverse possession should not arise.

    2. Sharon says :Reply

      20 years ago, apartment owner converted attic and put velux windows in roof which is owned and insured by OMC. Can apartment owner claim adverse posession of roof.

      1. Interesting question , I am wondering why you would want to claim the roof ! The answer is dependant on the title of the apartment. Usually, apartment blocks are leasehold titles which complicated the issue. Not one I could answer without further information . One thing to remember is that if you have a leasehold interest you cannot acquire by adverse possession a freehold interest .

  4. Sheila Moran says :Reply

    If you have use of land with consent of owner for 40 years how do you acquire title due to a possessionary interest without paying for it

    1. If you use the land with consent, the issue of adverse possession should not arise.

  5. Tracey says :Reply

    We’re looking to buy a house at auction that has gone into receivership but has people living it. Its not the owner nor does she know how they gained entry to the property. They’ve no lease. It’s going very cheap because the bank wants the buyer to have the headache of getting the people out. Where would we stand here? The auction is on May 12

    1. You would probalby need to investigate how they came to occupy the house – a sitting occupant could prove a big headache!

  6. Joe Connell says :Reply

    Myself and my wife built our house on land obtained from her father 10 years ago. At the time we did not fence in the full site as her father wanted to use some of it as farming lands. Can he claim adverse possession on the land even though there was a verbal agreement between my wife and her father that he could use the land for as long as he was alive?

    1. A key element to Adverse possession is that is it not with permission .

  7. Patrick Doherty says :Reply

    If land is in joint ownership for over 20 years between two siblings and the youngest sibling has had no use of nor benefit from it over that time, does the older sibling who has farmed the land in that time have adverse possession ?

    1. Short answer , No. Adverse possession usually arises where someone enters on land, not owned by them, and continues in occupation for long enough to get squatters title.

  8. We have placed a 40ft container next to our commercial premises 14 years ago without permission, the owner of the estate, which has a boundary, has now requested we remove it, would we have a good case for adverse possession?

    1. Very quick answer without further documents or facts: you may have a case depending on the circumstances when you put the container there.

  9. James says :Reply

    My parents own a house were half of the yard lies outside the actual property. However, this land has been maintained well by my parents for many years. There was an old dilapidated shed on it for years which attracted anti-social behaviour etc. My parents had this demolished and cleared at least 12 years ago and then it became part of the yard. I think this would qualify for adverse posession. But my question is this – if I buy the house from them, do I also buy the claim for adverse posession or would the 12 years have to start all over again before I could claim.

    1. Your parents would be better making the claim for adverse possession.

  10. John says :Reply

    Lived in my house for 14 years, to the rear of the lot line is a fence.
    I was under the assumption it was our property line..between the fence and my garden is a ditch and….I was clearing the ditch and brush the other day and doing a general tidy up..and the farmer approached me saying the ditch was his and the fence line is not the lot line..it’s the first time in 14 years I’ve spoken to the farmer. I was using the ditch for dumping green waste and grass….now he’s asked to put a new hedge up…that the ditch is his…I asked him why did he not build the fence to the lot line..his response was he did not build the fence the previous owner a horse breeder put the fence up…any advice would be

    1. As with all these cases, it will come down to evidence – it would be worthwhile checking maps to see where the boundary is shown – Land Registry map and ordinance survey .

  11. Mary o Sullivan says :Reply

    My mother died 17 years ago and left the house to us 11 siblings. My sister who has lived there for the last 20 years has now been asked by her siblings minus 4 of us who are gifting our share to get a mortgage to pay them their share. I was just wondering could she have a claim to the house in court as it’s her family home for so long. And if she does would there be tax implications.

    1. If she had lived there with the agreement of her siblings, there would not usually be a case of adverse possession. If she is getting a gift from 3 siblings there may be a CAT implication for her.

  12. Ross says :Reply

    There is a small field beside my mothers house that has been left unattended for many years with no sight or visit of an owner (even though it is registered freehold). About seven years ago, the old metal gate was broken down by teenagers for antisocial behaviour and to use the field as a short cut. At this time, I fixed the gate and put a lock and chain on it to prevent access, as the gate is the only way in/out of the field. For the past seven years I have prevented anyone gaining entry and no one has touched the gate/lock or had any issue with my effective possession. It looks like the registered owner has no interest or may not be aware of their title. If this scenario continues for five more years, would I have a claim or should I do something else to exert my ownership to support a possible claim in the future?

    1. The short answer is that if a squatter uses lands in accordance with its character for 12 years and the paper owner carries out no act of ownership, the title may vest in the squatter.

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