The importance of being adverse: squatters

Making a claim for adverse possession is a method by which an ‘unlawful’ occupier can acquire legal title to the land, by ‘displacing’ the paper owner. Adverse possession can be relied upon by squatters residing in a property or making use of a piece of land for the requisite length of time.

The case of Robert Smart v Lambeth London Borough Council concerned a claim for adverse possession, which was said to have arisen by virtue of occupation for a period of at least 12 years prior to 1993, but the principle considered in the case applies equally to any claim for adverse possession.

The case involved properties in Clapham, London, which in 1971 were acquired by Lambeth London Borough Council. Following acquisition, the properties were left vacant and squatters took possession. Rather than evict the squatters, the council decided to re-house them in the occupied properties. With the agreement and involvement of the squatters, the council granted a licence to a housing association, which, in turn, gave the housing association permission to grant licences to occupy (in a specified form only) to the squatters…

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