Hostile Possession

Hostile Possession
Hostile Possession
Full Overview Of Hostile Possession

Hostile possession, more commonly known as adverse possession, is a legal doctrine allowing a person to claim land ownership under certain conditions, even if they are not the legal owner. At DLS Solicitors, we understand that this concept can be complex and contentious, involving intricate legal principles and significant implications for property rights. This overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of hostile possession, detailing its legal foundation, requirements, and practical applications, as well as offering guidance on navigating related disputes.

Hostile possession is a method by which an individual can acquire legal title to land by occupying it for a specified period, provided certain conditions are met. This doctrine is rooted in the principle that land should be used productively and that long-term occupants should be able to secure legal recognition of their de facto ownership.

The legal framework governing hostile possession in the United Kingdom is primarily based on the Limitation Act 1980. according to this statute, a person can claim adverse possession of land if they have been in continuous and exclusive occupation of the property for at least 12 years without the legal owner’s permission. Once this period has elapsed, the original owner’s title to the land is extinguished, and the possessor can apply to be registered as the new owner.


Essential Requirements for Hostile Possession

To successfully claim hostile possession, the possessor must satisfy several key requirements. These elements are crucial in demonstrating that the possession was indeed adverse and should be recognised by law.

Actual Possession

The claimant must demonstrate actual possession of the land, which involves physical control and use of the property. This can include activities such as building structures, farming, or otherwise utilising the land in a manner consistent with ownership. The nature and extent of the activities will vary depending on the type of land and its customary use.

Exclusive Possession

The possession must be exclusive, meaning the claimant must exclude others, including the legal owner, from using the land. This exclusivity is indicative of the possessor’s intention to treat the land as their own. Shared or intermittent use with the legal owner typically does not satisfy this requirement.

Continuous Possession

The claimant must occupy the land continuously for the entire limitation period, without significant interruptions. Occasional absences, such as holidays, do not necessarily break continuity, provided the possessor’s use of the land remains consistent over time.

Open and Notorious Possession

Possession must be open and notorious, meaning it should be apparent to anyone, including the legal owner, that the possessor is using the land as their own. Secret or concealed occupation does not meet this criterion, as the purpose is to put the legal owner on notice that their property rights are being challenged.

Hostile Possession

Hostility in this context does not imply animosity but rather that the possession is without the permission of the legal owner. It must be clear that the possessor is occupying the land against the interests of the owner, intending to possess it as their own.

Case Studies and Practical Examples

The Abandoned Plot

Consider the case of an abandoned plot of land in a suburban area. Mr. Johnson noticed that the land adjacent to his property had been neglected for many years, with overgrown vegetation and no signs of recent use. He decided to clear the land, fence it off, and use it as an extension of his garden. Over the next 12 years, Mr. Johnson maintained the land, planted trees, and constructed a shed.

When the legal owner eventually attempted to reclaim the land, Mr. Johnson asserted a claim of hostile possession. He demonstrated actual, exclusive, continuous, and open possession, fulfilling all the necessary requirements. The court ruled in his favour, recognising his claim and granting him legal title to the land.

The Commercial Property Dispute

In another example, a small business owner, Mrs. Patel, discovered that the back portion of her commercial property extended onto a neighbouring plot that had been left unused for over a decade. She began using the extra space for storage, constructed a small warehouse, and incorporated it into her business operations. Throughout this period, she paid for the upkeep and improvements on the land, openly treating it as part of her property.

After 12 years, the legal owner of the neighbouring plot resurfaced, challenging Mrs. Patel’s use of the land. She successfully argued hostile possession by providing evidence of her continuous and exclusive use of the land for business purposes. The court acknowledged her claim, transferring legal ownership of the disputed area to her.

Initiating a Claim

To initiate a claim for hostile possession, the possessor typically needs to apply to the Land Registry. This application involves submitting detailed evidence of the possession, including photographs, witness statements, and documentation of activities conducted on the land. It is essential to demonstrate that all legal requirements have been satisfied.

Responding to a Claim

For legal owners, receiving notice of a hostile possession claim can be alarming. It is crucial to respond promptly and effectively. Legal owners should gather evidence to counter the claim, such as proof of their periodic visits, attempts to use or reclaim the land, or any permissions granted to the possessor.

Dispute Resolution

Disputes over hostile possession claims often require legal intervention to resolve. Mediation can be a viable option for parties seeking an amicable settlement. However, when disputes escalate, court proceedings may be necessary. At DLS Solicitors, we provide expert representation for both claimants and legal owners, navigating the complexities of these disputes to achieve favourable outcomes.

The Role of DLS Solicitors

At DLS Solicitors, we offer comprehensive legal services to clients involved in hostile possession matters. Our expertise encompasses both advising potential claimants on the viability of their claims and assisting legal owners in defending their property rights.

Advising Claimants

For individuals considering a hostile possession claim, we provide thorough assessments of their situation, evaluating whether the legal requirements are met and advising on the best course of action. Our services include:

  • Initial Consultation: Understanding the client’s circumstances and goals.
  • Evidence Gathering: Assisting in compiling necessary documentation and witness statements.
  • Application Support: Guiding clients through the Land Registry application process.
  • Legal Representation: Representing clients in any ensuing disputes or court proceedings.

Assisting Legal Owners

For legal owners facing hostile possession claims, we offer robust defence strategies to protect their property interests. Our services include:

  • Response Preparation: Helping clients prepare a detailed and effective response to the claim.
  • Evidence Compilation: Gathering evidence to refute the possessor’s claim.
  • Dispute Resolution: Exploring mediation and other settlement options.
  • Litigation Support: Providing expert representation in court if necessary.

Practical Advice for Property Owners

Preventative Measures

To mitigate the risk of hostile possession claims, property owners should take proactive steps to assert their ownership and maintain control over their land. Practical measures include:

  • Regular Inspections: Periodically inspecting all parts of the property to ensure no unauthorised occupation occurs.
  • Clear Boundaries: Clearly marking property boundaries with fences, signs, or other markers.
  • Communication: Addressing any unauthorised use promptly through formal communication and, if necessary, legal action.
  • Documentation: Keeping detailed records of property inspections, maintenance, and any interactions with individuals using the land.

Responding to Potential Claims

If a property owner becomes aware of potential hostile possession, it is crucial to act swiftly:

  • Consult a Solicitor: Seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity to understand rights and options.
  • Serve Notice: Serving a formal notice to the possessor, asserting ownership and requesting cessation of occupation.
  • Secure the Property: Taking steps to physically secure the property, such as erecting barriers or signs indicating ownership.



Hostile possession is a multifaceted area of property law with significant implications for both claimants and legal owners. Understanding its legal foundations, requirements, and practical applications is essential for anyone involved in property disputes or seeking to protect their property rights.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert guidance and representation in all matters related to hostile possession. Whether you are considering a claim or defending against one, our team of experienced solicitors is here to support you every step of the way. By leveraging our in-depth knowledge and practical experience, we ensure that our clients’ interests are safeguarded and their legal objectives are achieved.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information or to discuss your specific situation. Our dedicated team is ready to assist you with all your property law needs, ensuring you navigate the complexities of hostile possession with confidence and clarity.

Hostile Possession FAQ'S

Hostile possession, commonly referred to as adverse possession in the UK, is a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of land or property they have occupied without the permission of the original owner, provided they meet certain criteria over a specified period.

To claim adverse possession, the occupier must show:

  • Continuous and uninterrupted possession of the land for at least 10 years (12 years for unregistered land).
  • Physical possession of the land, using it as an owner would.
  • Possession without the permission of the original owner.
  • An intention to possess the land.

To apply for adverse possession of registered land, the occupier must submit a completed form ADV1 to the Land Registry, along with evidence supporting their claim. If the Land Registry notifies the registered owner, the owner has 65 business days to object.

Yes, the original owner can oppose an adverse possession claim by responding to the Land Registry’s notification and providing evidence that the occupier does not meet the requirements for adverse possession or by taking legal action to reclaim the property.

If the original owner does not respond to the Land Registry’s notification within 65 business days, the Land Registry may proceed to register the occupier as the new owner of the property.

Adverse possession can apply to leasehold property, but the rules and conditions may differ. The occupier must show possession of the leasehold interest and meet the same criteria for adverse possession as for freehold property.

Adverse possession cannot typically be claimed on land owned by the Crown or public bodies. There are specific protections in place for public land that prevent adverse possession claims.

For registered land, the occupier must apply to the Land Registry after 10 years of possession. For unregistered land, the occupier must show 12 years of possession and can apply to be registered as the owner through the Land Registry. The process for unregistered land often involves proving continuous and exclusive possession through legal proceedings.

Yes, adverse possession can be interrupted if the original owner takes action to reclaim the property, such as through eviction proceedings, or if the occupier abandons the property. Any interruption resets the possession period required to claim adverse possession.

Evidence needed to support an adverse possession claim includes:

  • Documents showing the duration of occupation (e.g., utility bills, council tax records).
  • Witness statements confirming continuous and exclusive use.
  • Photographs or maps demonstrating physical possession.
  • Any improvements or maintenance done by the occupier on the property.

This evidence helps establish the necessary criteria for adverse possession.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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