Are squatters' rights worth it?

Our lawyer Fiona McNulty advises the process of applying for rights of access to neighbouring land
Legal cartoon
© Merrily Harper
Question: During the seven years I have owned my property I have used a gate in the boundary fence to cross my neighbour's back yard to reach the street easily. The neighbour has now bricked up the gate.

My deeds suggest he has right of access to my garden for maintenance purposes but there isn't any mention of me having right of access across his garden.

A solicitor friend says I must prove I and previous owners have been using this gate for 20 years to claim squatters' rights — but is it worth going to all that trouble?

Answer: When you bought the property your solicitor should have ensured that there was an express right of way over your neighbour's yard which was noted on your register of title at the Land Registry and also noted on your neighbour's title register.

If no such right was registered your solicitor should have requested statutory declarations from your seller and from whoever owned the property prior to your seller confirming how they had accessed the neighbour's yard. If the right of access has been used for 20 years other than with consent of the legal owner you may acquire a right of way by prescription. You may struggle to prove this now if the previous owners do not wish to get involved in making statutory declarations.

As your neighbour is preventing you using the gate and crossing the yard the value of your property may be affected by the loss of the access and you may suffer inconvenience. You may have a claim against your solicitor who dealt with your purchase.

What's your problem?

If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

Fiona is a partner in the residential real estate team at Thring LLP (

These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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