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Roman Law

DIY squatter could become property owner

Keith Best spent 10 years renovating a semi-detached three-bedroom property in 35 Church Road, Newbury Park, Ilford. He found the house in 1997, empty and vandalised, and moved in. Best said that during all the time that he lived in the house, no one had challenged his right to ownership.

According to a law that dates back to the Roman times, Best could secure ownership of this property. Similar properties are on the market for about £390,000. A more recent law, section 144(1) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Laspoa), has made residential squatting a criminal offence. So according to the new law, Best has been committing criminal trespass offense, at least from September 1, 2012, when section 144 of Laspoa came into effect.

Best applied for title in November 2012, under the provisions of the Land Registration Act 2002. The “squatter’s title” comes into effect if the property has been occupied without any challenge to the right to ownership for at least 10 years.

The chief land registrar had attempted to block Best’s application for the title, but Best won the legal battle against the registrar over his right to apply for registration of the property in his name. Mr. Justice Ouseley, sitting at London’s High Court, said that Best had occupied the property and performed renovations with the intent to make it his permanent residence, and there has been no disputes about his possession of the property though he had occupied it without the owner’s consent at the time. The judge has given the registrar permission to appeal, highlighting the unique nature of the case and the possibility that there are more similar cases.

Best’s solicitors said that the law of adverse possession may be a quirky old law, but one that benefits the economy because it allows unclaimed and unused property to get recycled back into use. They also said that making Laspoa was not intended to impact the law of adverse possession.

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