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28th September 2021

7 year boundary rule – What is it

What is the 7 year boundary rule?

The 7 year boundary rule implies that someone who acquires land from an adverse possessor who has possessed the land adversely for seven years has to own the land for another five years to claim the title. In simpler terms, an adverse possessor must own the land for at least seven years before legally selling it. Then, the new owner must own it for another five before getting a legal title and using it as any legal landowner would. Therefore, the 7 year rule is actually a 12-year rule. Understanding this rule will be easier after understanding the following information;

boundary rules

What is Adverse Possession (AP)?

This is a legal practice that indicates that a person can acquire legal ownership of another person’s property. The property, in this case, is land. When doing this, the person needs to acquire possession or reside on the property for a specific amount of time.

Certain rules, requirements, and conditions must be fulfilled for AP to be successful. If it is successful, there will be no requirement for the new owner to compensate the property’s former owner or seek their permission.

How does AP work?

A significant part of this legal practice is that rights and conditions have to be achieved. The conditions and terms usually differ depending on the country or state. Some of these conditions are;

• The first requirement is that you must prove actual possession of the land. This means that you must prove that you have been physically using the land the same way that the reasonable or legal owner would. This depends on its character, location, and nature. To certain this, the court handling the case will ask the real owner what they would do with the land.
• Another requirement is that there should only be one adverse possessor. This means that the possession of the land cannot be shared with the legal owner or the general public. The adverse possessor must hold possession of the land for himself and keep third parties from entering the land as the reasonable owner would.
• The adverse possessor also has to prove visible and obvious possession of the land. This means that if the legal owner of the land inspected it, they would be aware of the adverse claimant’s possession.
In some areas, the law also expects that the adverse possessor must have made some changes or improvements to the land. In many states, the adverse possessor must also prove that they have been paying taxes on the property or land.

It is worth mentioning that the original owner can recover possession of their property during the process by taking legal action. In England, the law states that if the original owner does not attempt to exercise their rights and recover their land within a certain amount of time, they will lose the said rights. In such cases, the adverse possessor becomes the legal owner of the property.

The process of filling to become an adverse possessor

Below is a step by step guide for the process;

Step 1: Occupation of the property

The claimant has to occupy the property for a specified amount of time. This is known as the statutory limit. For this to happen, the property should be abandoned. Otherwise, it will be referred to as trespassing.

Step 2: Taking possession

Here, the claimant has to put up possession by putting up a fence and showing dominion over the property. This will prove that the claimant has taken possession of the property to use it as it needs to be applied. Note that the possession must take place on a constant basis for a specified statutory period.

Step 3: Paying taxes

Here, the claimant must start acting as the property owner by doing things like paying property taxes. It will help if you only did this if you are sure that the property has been abandoned and you have a chance to become the adverse possessor.

Step 4: Finding the owner

Here, the claimant must find the legal property owner after a statutory period has been reached. This can be done by contacting the registry.

Step 4: Filing a lawsuit

Finding the legal owner’s name will help you with this step. This is where you file a lawsuit against the owner to become an adverse possessor of the land.

The Land Registration Act of 2002 in England has made initiating AP harder. The law states that if the property or land is not registered for at least a decade, then the adverse possessor can apply to become the new legal and registered owner. Once the application has been filed, the registrar will notify the registered titleholder of the land. Here, the registered titleholder has the right to reject the adverse possessor’s request. This has to be done within two years. If the titleholder does not respond within two years, the title can be transferred. The two years are granted, so the registered titleholder does not lose their title without knowing the situation. While challenging the application by the adverse possessor, the legal owner must ensure that the requirements mentioned above are not present.

If you are looking to become a successful adverse possessor, you must first understand the primary conditions you need to meet. Additionally, it would help to look up the laws in your area to know what you need and how long the original legal owner has to reject your application for AP.

Ways to prove AP

Below are some of the primary ways through which you can prove AP;

Actual use

The law defines actual use as having dominion over property. This means that a person must be using the property as someone else, or the legal owner would. Therefore, using a property for storage may not qualify if you are dealing with a residential area. However, it is worth understanding that not every actual use case is usually clear or black and white. In some cases, the use of the land is determined by its location and nature. For instance, if the land is located in a farming area but is barren, using it to store farm products may qualify as actual use. It is also essential to understand that the possession of the property must be substantial rather than sporadic.

Open and notorious application

This means that the claimant must be using the land openly. The use of the property must be so apparent that the legal owner is aware of the potential of an adverse claim. The neighbors and residents of the area must also openly witness the claimant’s use and possession of the land. It is often better if the use of the land puts the legal owner on alert. This way, the claimant can prove open and notorious use of the property.

Continous use

Continous use does not imply the continuation of usage of the land from a third party, who may also be the record of the legal owner. It means that the claimant’s possession of the property must have been continuous and not interrupted by the legal owner at any time within the statute period. For instance, if the legal owner of the property had displaced the claimant at any point, their ownership or use of the property is regarded as seasonal instead of continuous. Therefore, a claimant must prove that they have used the property or land for the statute period without interruption from a third party or the legal or record owner.

Exclusive use

An adverse possessor must also prove exclusive use of the land. This means that their land use must be exclusive of the proper or record owner entering or asserting his possession or rights. Additionally, if the property features a natural resource, the claimant must prove that they are the only users of the resource. Exclusive use also means that the adverse possessor is not sharing the land with the two owners, any other third party, or the public. For instance, an adverse possessor cannot claim a disputed land being used as a playing field by the community.

Hostile use

There are three ways to define this term, depending on the location of the property. The following are these three ways of defining hostile use;

• Bad faith; here, the claimant is fully aware that the property does not belong to them and operates in bad faith.
• Good faith; this means that the claimant believes that they are the owners of the property and did not take possession of it, knowing that someone else has legal rights over it. Here, the claimant must prove that they had a substantial reason for their belief by showing why they believed that they owned the property. Failure to prove this will cause the court to return the property to its rightful owner.
• Objective; this is where the claimant neither has good or bad faith reason for claiming AP of the property. Here, the claimant must act as though they are the actual owners of the property whether or not they knew that they owned it.

Understanding AP is critical because it will help you know what could happen if you do not utilize your land. Also, this information could come in handy if you are interested in becoming a legal owner of unused property. This legal practice was put in place to ensure that land is used efficiently and no land is left deserted. This is why it allows a legal landowner to lose possession of their land if they leave it unused for a long time to someone willing to utilize it efficiently.

In some cases, AD is also known as Squatter’s right.

What are Squatter’s rights?

This refers to the rights of a squatter or someone living on a property or land that does not belong to them. In some areas, the squatter has some rights or claims to the ownership of the property. This means that they can become an adverse possessor of the land or property. A person can claim Squatter’s rights if they are roommates, tenants, or occupants of abandoned property. Typically, the settler has rights to the property until the owner finds out about it. However, if they wish to have legal ownership of the property, they must file to become adverse possessors.

What is the difference between AP and Squatters rights?

While these two legal processes have a lot in common, there is a clear difference between them. Several elements differentiate them. One of the differentiating elements is open and continuous dwelling. For instance, if someone not known is living on a property and cannot be visibly seen, he is more a squatter than an adverse possessor. Unlike Squatter’s or settlers’ rights, AP also usually requires the occupant to have made some improvements upon the land. Perhaps the most significant difference between AP and SR lies in the person’s intention to take adverse possession of the land.

Another term you must understand is the general boundary. This is because the title issues usually include a general boundary.

General Boundaries Rule

More often than not, in areas like England and Wales, a plan is usually attached to every registered property. The plan, frequently known as a file plan, shows a drawing of the land on ordnance survey 1/1250 scale plan. In the drawing, the boundaries are usually outlined in red. Naturally, the primary purpose of land registration is a guarantee or insurance from the Land Registry that there will be no third-party claims to the land.

However, this is not always the case, as there are a few exceptions. One of the primary exceptions is that someone can apply to alter or rectify the register. In such a situation, the person must meet the strict alteration criteria under Sch 4 to the Land Registration Act of 2002. Alterations can only be made if the aim is to correct an error, bring the register up to date, or affect any legal right, estate, or interests not affected by the registration. The first paragraph of Sch 4 defines rectification as an alteration that involves correcting a mistake that prejudicially affects the title of the land’s registered proprietor. Note that a registered proprietor always suffers loss when they apply for rectification. This is because applying or requesting rectification of a register may expose a person to prejudice.

Naturally, even where the land is shown a file plan, it is subject to the (GBR) General Boundaries Rule found in S.60 of the Act of 2002.

So what is the General Boundaries Rule?

The S.60 of the 2002 act defines a general boundary as the boundary of a registered estate as indicated for the register. It also clearly demonstrates that a general boundary does not determine the precise line of the land boundary. Additionally, the legislation also indicates that the boundary of a registered estate marked for the purposes of the title register is typically a general boundary. This is unless it is shown as determined under section 60.

Before the 2002 act, the 1925 act provided that the filled plans were deemed only to demonstrate general boundaries. This is except in cases where the boundaries have been fixed, and the changes are noted in the Property Register. In these cases, the exact boundary line would be left undetermined.

Note that there are rare cases where the register records that a determined boundary has been registered under section 60 of the Act of 2002. In such cases. The boundaries to the registered title are used as a precise boundary line. If this is not the case, they are seen as general boundary indications and not exact boundary lines. In such cases, there is usually a warning displayed on the title plans.

This rule is in place because of the small scale of most file plans. This means that their size does not allow them to be scaled up with high levels of accuracies. Naturally, accuracy would mean a millimeter’s difference-making a four-foot difference on the ground. Note that file plans usually feature extensive inaccuracies. Note that land registries usually offer procedures for applying for clearer boundaries. These boundaries are generally determined by reference to more extensive scale plans.

It is also worth mentioning that the rule has been applied by courts or legal bodies for making several significant decisions. This application has led to the discovery that the rule’s scope is much broader than most people assumed. This is because the rule is not restricted to the side of a boundary a hedge or fence falls but also to the larger land areas.

The difference between legal and physical boundaries

In real estate, it is worth mentioning that boundaries can either be legal or physical. A physical boundary is a natural feature like a stream or river or an artificial feature like a wall or fence that has been erected to act as a boundary. The physical feature does not usually indicate the owner, or the boundary runs on one side or the middle. On the other hand, a legal boundary is one recognized by the registry or legal authorities.

Final words
Note that becoming an adverse possessor does not mean that the land legally belongs to you. It only means that you can continue to use it without worrying about the record owner kicking you out. It takes a while for you to get the legal title for the land. This is where the 7-year boundary rule comes in.