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Recent Decision on Adverse Possession Serves as a Warning to Property Owners

Hand in foreground holding house keys

A recent Circuit Court decision in a case involving adverse possession (sometimes referred to as ‘squatter’s rights’), serves as a warning to owners of real property (that is, owners of land and / or buildings) in highlighting how the failure of such a property owner to maintain or assert its ownership of property, can result in the loss of that property.

Adverse possession permits a person to become an owner of property, without having any formal claim to the property or without having to make any payment or to take any formal title to the property from the actual owner. 

To achieve this, that person must be able to show that it has been in continuous and uninterrupted occupation of the relevant property for at least 12 years (the relevant period) in a manner which is inconsistent with the actual owner's ownership and possession of the property in question. The relevant period of 12 years is extended to 30 years for land owned by a state authority.

In this Circuit Court case, Mary Byrne secured a declaration that land of just under a quarter of an acre to the rear of her home in Marino in Dublin, that was in the legal ownership of Dublin City Council (or its predecessors in title), now belonged to her. The land located behind a number of houses and gardens in Marino was the left over portion of a construction site from 1934. It had been leased by the Council as allotments to Byrne's grandparents. The Byrne family remained in possession of the land but after some time they stopped paying rent to the Council. The Council sought possession of the land in 1995 and served a notice to quit on Byrne. However, the Council never followed up on this eviction notice.

The Court was satisfied that Byrne was in adverse possession of the property for the relevant period and granted a declaration that she was now the owner of those lands.
This Circuit Court decision once again serves as a cautionary tale to property owners in respect of the doctrine of adverse possession and places a positive obligation on property owners to ensure that their property is not occupied by third parties, without their formal permission or consent. It is important to note, that the doctrine does not only apply to strips of land as seen in the Byrne case, but that it also applies to buildings or other larger land holdings.

It is vitally important that a property owner regularly inspects his or her property to ensure that no unauthorised person or party is asserting an interest or squatting on his or her lands or buildings, to protect against a claim of adverse possession.
 

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