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Disputes over strips of property are common, and a typical result is that the resolution of the dispute costs many times the value of the land in dispute.
This can cause particular problems when an estate is involved, as the executor is faced with potential costs and delay in administering the estate.
A case of this kind was eventually decided in January 2016, nearly three years after the death of the property owner.
The area in dispute was an old and overgrown access road that divided two pieces of property, one of which was owned by a farmer who died in 2013. In 2009, the farmer had applied for planning permission to build a poultry shed on his farm and the works were substantially completed in 2010.
During the work, spoil was deposited on the strip of land and damage was done to the neighbouring farmer’s wall. The correspondence which followed on from that led eventually to a court case to decide the ownership of the strip.
The land had originally been common land. The High Court found that the evidence of the witnesses generally had to be ‘treated with a pinch of salt’ and the judge had to refer back to documents dating from the early 1800s.
The executor of the estate also claimed that his late father had a good title to the land based on the law of adverse possession (‘squatters’ rights’), which allows a person who has had unfettered and open possession of land to take legal title to it provided the necessary criteria are met.
After a judgment that ran to 92 paragraphs, the Court ruled that the adverse possession claim failed and that the strip was in the ownership of both parties, divided down the middle.