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Squatter?s rights over a riverbed?

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The recent case of Port of London Authority v Ashmore [2009] was concerned with whether adverse possession (more familiarly known as squatter's rights) could be held by the owner of a vessel over part of a riverbed which was unregistered and where the vessel rested on the riverbed at low tide.

Background

The owner of the vessel had moored it to Albion Riverside on the Thames. For 26 years no one had complained about his vessel being there nor had he paid any mooring fees or equivalent to anyone.

The Port of London authority then claimed that the owner of the vessel was trespassing on their property and had been doing so continually since 1983. To remedy the situation the authority applied to register their title to the riverbed of this part of the Thames and applied for an injunction and declaratory relief.

The authority argued that the owner of the vessel had not been in sufficient factual possession of the relevant area of the riverbed, as the continuous, unbroken possession had been prevented by the tide.

Points to note

 

This was an unusual case and, although not the first of its kind (see Roberts v Swangrove Estates Limited [2007]) it was interesting because it disputed common opinion that in order to establish sufficient possession for the purposes of demonstrating adverse possession, the party claiming the adverse possession had to prove some continuing physical contact with the land in question.

Mr Stephen Smith QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, noted that the question of what acts constituted a sufficient degree of exclusive possession depended in particular on "the nature of the land and the manner in which land of that nature [was] commonly used or enjoyed". When the land in question was part of the riverbed, the fact that the squatter's boat rose and fell with the flowing and ebbing of the tide did not mean that the squatter had relinquished physical possession of the land. In particular, what this case shows is that where there is sufficient intention to possess but not necessarily the factual continual possession of the land, it was still possible to establish adverse possession.

If you are considering a claim for adverse possession of land (or riverbeds!) or just want general advice on this area of litigation, then please contact any member of the CDRU Team who will be able to assist.

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