Dowse & Another v City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council  UKUT (LC)
Mr and Mrs Dowse (“the Applicants”) claimed that they had adversely possessed two acres of Council-owned land (“the Land”) that sat adjacent to the garden of their house. Since 1974, the Applicants had used the Land for grazing, growing hay and, latterly, storing a caravan.
Background: The 2002 Regime
The Land Registration Act 2002 (“LRA”) has made significant changes to the law of adverse possession with respect to registered land. Where the adverse possession began after October 1991 (ie. 12 years prior to the LRA coming into force), it has become a lot harder to obtain ownership of registered land through adverse possession.
Under the LRA, a person who has been in adverse possession of registered land for longer than 10 years may apply to HM Land Registry to become the new registered owner of that land. However, under paragraph 5 of Schedule 6 to the LRA, that application will be rejected unless one of three narrow exceptions apply. In practice, this means that (so long as the existing registered owner complies with the relevant LRA procedures for challenging applications) an adverse possession claim is unlikely to be successful.
One of the three narrow exceptions applies where:
- The applicant has been adversely possessing land that is adjacent to their own land;
- The exact boundary line between the two plots has not been determined;
- The applicant reasonably believed that the adversely possessed land has been owned by them for a minimum of 10 years; and
- The adversely possessed land has been registered for more than 1 year prior to the application.
This was the ground that the applicants relied upon in Dowse v City of Bradford MDC.
The Upper Tribunal rejected the Applicant’s application, holding that the narrow exception was only applicable with respect to land situated in the general area of a boundary between two plots. Within the (narrow) meaning of paragraph 5 of Schedule 6, the judge found that the Land was not “adjacent to” the Applicants’ land because: “only a very small part of [the Land] was within the area of the general boundary with [the Applicant’s garden]…The whole of the land, or a substantial part, would need to be adjacent to the [Applicant]’s property” in order for the exception to apply.
The decision in Dowse confirms that LRA has made it extremely difficult to make a successful claim for adverse possession of registered land. When considering an application under Schedule 6, one should seek robust legal advice as to the likely strength of any prospective claim.
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