Away with the fairies

Our lawyer Fiona McNulty looks at the issue of unknown land ownership
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Unknown land ownership cartoon
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Question: When we bought our house there was some land at the bottom of the garden covered in brambles, about 10 square yards in area. As nobody used this land, after a year or so I cleared the brambles and have used it ever since as a vegetable garden. Recently, my neighbour has hinted that the land may be on his deeds. Can I tell him that I have the right to use it anyway?

Answer: Where the owner of land is unknown, you may acquire it if you use it as your own for a specified period of time. This is commonly known as "squatter's rights". The law was changed by the Land Registration Act 2002 and your rights will differ depending on whether the land is registered at the Land Registry.

You can search the index map at the Land Registry to establish whether this is the case. If it is registered, you have to show that you have "possessed" the land for at least 10 years without consent of the owner, who will be notified and entitled to object. An objection would usually be successful in defeating your claim.

If the land is not registered, the period is 12 years. Provided you satisfy legal tests of "possession" the land will be registered in your name.

You should consult a solicitor, who will be able to advise you on the evidence required to support your claim. The Land Registry will charge a fee payable on application, which should be about £100.

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

Fiona is a partner in the property team at Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons Solicitors

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