Adverse Possession – becoming the owner of land by squatting on another’s property.

Adverse Possession is the occupation of land without permission from the title owner.
Where a person squats on another’s land, and treats it as his own for twelve (12) years (in Jamaica), he becomes eligible to apply to the courts, asking that ownership be vested in him and an order for title of said land to be issued in his own name.
Attorneys will tell you that the Law in every situation requires proof, all statements and or assertions must be supported by some authority and so the best way I find, to explain a principle or area of law is to use a decided case.
In this instance we will look at the seminal (UK) case on the topic, J A Pye Ltd and another v Graham and Another [2002] UKHL30 (Pye v Graham), I will include the year in the facts to give an idea of how the court calculates time in these situations. I will also put the facts in bullet form so that they are easier to digest.

J A Pye (hereinafter referred to as Pye) was the Title Owner of a large property in the UK, the Graham family were the squatters, (hereinafter referred to as Graham).

• The land was agricultural land ripe for development, Pye had plans to develop same and was in the process of getting planning permits etc.
• In 1982 Graham purchased a part of Pye’s property, which he (Graham) used for farming.
• Pye made an agreement with Graham that he could use his remaining property for grazing for a specified period of time.
• Pye’s land (hereinafter referred to as the disputed land), was fully fenced except for access by a foot-path or through a small gate, the key for which Graham held.
• In February 1983 and again in December 1983 both parties again entered into short grazing agreements for a cost, with condition that Graham kept the gate and fence in good condition among other things.
• Pye in the agreement reserved the right to terminate at any-time and regain possession on service of 6 months’ notice, the contract also expressly stated that grazing after the expiry date was only to be by way of a new contract. (this shows that an [expired] contract without more is insufficient to save a title owner in this situation).
• Graham had an informal licence and It was unclear whether Graham vacated the property prior to the 1983 contract.
• December 1983 a Surveyor acting for Pye wrote to him suggesting that he grant Graham a new license for 1984 and on the same day he also wrote to Graham asking him to vacate as his license had expired.

• January 1984 Pye refused to renew the agreement as he anticipated planning permits for the land.
• The Grahams were aware of Pye’s plans to develop and that he did not want the land used for grazing anymore. (This too is significant as it helps to show the court the intention of the squatter, Graham knew of the owner’s plans but still carried on with his own.
• Mr. Graham senior (the member of the family who actually contracted with Pye) died in 1988, and a week later his wife registered cautions against Pye’s title.
• The Grahams remained in occupation from January 1984 and all times after.
• Graham continued to spread dung and straw in winter, left cattle to graze, fertilised the land etc., despite knowing it was their own risk, as Pye could have asked them to stop at any time and they would have lost all that work, time and resources.
• 1984 Pye agreed to sell Graham the standing grass on the land to cut and complete by August 1984; this means that any use after September 1, 1984 was without permission. (this is important as one cannot adversely possess if they have permission.)
• December 1984 the Grahams wrote to ask if they could take another cut of Hay and preferably get a grazing agreement for 1985, Pye did not respond to this nor subsequent letters, thereafter the Grahams did not attempt to make contact.
• September 1984 to 1999 – fifteen years, the Grahams used the whole property for farming, they never vacated the property, they kept cattle in a shed, fertilised the land, boundary fence maintained, reseeded the land etc. all the while they were aware that there was a risk of him not obtaining the benefit of his work as he had no agreement but he was willing to take a chance.
• Various witnesses gave evidence in court that they thought the property belonged to Graham. (significant as possession must be open, it cannot be in secrecy).
• The judge asked the Surveyor, what, over and above what Graham had done might an occupying owner have done? He could not think of anything. In other words, was Graham behaving any less than if he owned the land? And the Surveyor said no, (which is to Graham’s benefit as the squatter must treat the property as his own, he does whatever he wants as if he is the owner).
• Graham in his witness statement stated that he was willing to pay if asked, he said in light of the lack of interest shown by Pye he continued to use the land for what he considered to be best use, he also believed it possible to obtain ownership of the land if occupied for enough years.
• There was no action on the land by Pye from 1984 to 1999 – 15 years (only 12 years is required).
• In 1993 a representative of Pye went to inspect the property but only viewed it from the road, he did not go onto the land (going onto the land would have helped to interrupt possession).
• Pye did some paper transactions relating to the land but that was insufficient to constitute possession.
• In 1999 Pye issued proceedings seeking possession of the land.

The ISSUES for the Court were:-
– Did Graham remain in possession for 12 years uninterrupted without permission
– Did Graham have the requisite intention to possess or animus possidendi.
– Did Pye interrupt Graham’s possession
– Was Pye dispossessed of his land

The Limitations Act and the Registration of Titles Acts (the legislations governing this area) were referred to by the judges, both states that where land has been possessed adversely for a minimum of 12 years the title owner no longer has a right to recovery action and the title can now be vested in the possessor/squatter.
I will now explain/define some of the terms used in law as it relates to adverse possession and what they mean :-
Possession – has been understood to refer to the degree of occupation or physical control coupled with the requisite intention generally referred to as animus possendi.
– Generally, the paper owner is deemed to be in possession.
However, where another can show evidence that establishes factual possession AND the requisite intent to possess (animus possendi) then he is deemed to be in legal possession; however, if there is no animus there is no possession because it is not the action of the squatter that matters but the intention with which he does the act.
– Factual possession – refers to the degree of physical control, it must be exclusive and one person can possess on behalf of others, but the owner and the squatter cannot both be in possession.
– Sufficient degree of exclusive physical control – differs in each circumstance, but generally a squatter must have been dealing with the land as if he is in fact the title owner, that is, he does whatever an owner of land would with property but it is not necessary that it is what this particular owner had or has in mind.
– Intention to possess – the adverse possessor or squatter must have an intention to exclude the whole world including the title owner, on his own behalf and in his own name.
Dispossession – refers to the taking of possession from another without a license and without his consent
Admission of title – where the squatter admits that the property belongs to another, it does not detract from the fact that he is in possession, (if anything it helps to prove his intention), all that is required is that he is in possession (the legal meaning) without permission for the requisite time and he has the requisite animus possendi (intention).

Graham license had expired and he nevertheless continued using the land for his own purpose despite knowing that the Pye (title owner) could ask him to quit at any time and despite knowing that he was acting contrary to the Pye’s wishes; he farmed the land same as he did his own land. This shows that Graham acted without permission and it also shows his intention to possess the land as his own.
From 1984 to 1997 (13 years), the Grahams were the only ones to use the land, Pye was, throughout the period excluded from the property, Graham had the only key to the gate for the property which was fenced, and additionally neither Pye nor his agents attempted to go onto the land at any time during this period.
Pye sent notice to quit, refused to renew license, ignore later requests for renewal from Graham, all through this Graham continued to exclude Pye and the world (locked gate) and the land was used as his own, this shows his intention and in fact amounted to sufficient animus possidendi.
Only after the requisite 12 years ran, did Pye seek to interrupt Graham’s blatant use of the land or his possession.
In concluding, Graham occupied/possessed the land, he used it as his own, notices to quit were ignored, and despite knowing the owner’s plans to develop the land, he openly carried on without permission for 15 years.

The aforementioned facts illustrated that Graham indeed had the requisite animus possidendi or intention to possess, and there was no doubt that he was in fact in possession of the land, without permission, uninterrupted for the requisite twelve years as required by law.
The court found that Graham successfully dispossessed Pye and was now the new title owner of the entire property by way of adverse possession.

See also the Jamaican case of Recreational Holdings (Ja) ltd. V Carl Lazarus [2014] JMCA Civ 34