You would think it would be difficult to lose 25 acres of land. It is not going to pick itself up one day and run away nor is it going to hide behind a tree and jump out at you as a surprise. But, what is surprising is how some landowners can lose track of their ownership with disastrous results. I act for a farmer who, back in the 1980s, sold 25 acres of land to a developer. The developer was building up their land bank in the area and verbally agreed that my client could stay in possession of the property until it was required. Some contact was maintained for the first few years, when Christmas cards were exchanged, but there was no formal written agreement for the occupation and no rent or licence fee was paid. Over the next thirty-odd years my client continued to farm the property as part of his larger land holding. He has maintained the property, excluded everyone else from occupying the property and kept the access gates locked at all times, having the only set of keys. The property was registered at the Land Registry in the name of the developer although it was sold to another developer and there then followed a series of internal reorganisations.
We recently applied to the Land Registry to have the title registered back into my client’s name arguing that he had now obtained title to the property by Adverse Possession having been in sole occupation of the property to the exclusion of all others and without consent nor payment of rent for a period in excess of 12 years. Despite the Land Registry serving the necessary notices on the registered owner no objections were received within the prescribed time limit and my client has now been registered as the owner of the property. This may appear insignificant but the land is on the edge of a town and it is certainly anticipated that residential development will be obtained in the not too distant future. And the value then … £1,000,000.00 an acre? £1,500,000.00 an acre?
So, for the sake of keeping ownership registers up to date the previous owner may have lost out on a small fortune.
The moral of the story? Make sure that your records are up to date, inspect your property regularly, question anyone in occupation without your consent and take steps to remove them. If your land is unregistered, then apply for it to be registered now.