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Court Tackles Vexed Issue of ‘Squatters’ Rights’

In giving important guidance on the vexed issue of so-called ‘squatters’ rights’, the Court of Appeal has ruled that residents who made their homes in a London street after it was scheduled for demolition had remained there with the consent of the local authority freeholder and had thus not developed adverse possession rights.

The London Borough of Lambeth had in 1971 compulsorily acquired a number of run-down houses in Lillieshall Road, Clapham, with a view to demolition. However, plans for re-development of the area did not come to fruition and, by the mid-1970s, squatters had moved into a number of the properties.

The council’s policy was to avoid evictions if possible and a scheme was created whereby a housing association acted as intermediary and obtained grant funding to repair and improve the houses. The squatters had formed their own housing co-operative and were granted occupation licences by the association.

One of the squatters launched legal proceedings in pursuit of a declaration that he had been in continuous occupation of his home for more than 12 years and thus enjoyed adverse possession rights that trumped the council’s registered title. His claim was, however, dismissed by a judge who found that his occupation of the property had been with the council’s express or implied permission.

In dismissing the squatter’s appeal, the Court found that it was ‘incontrovertible’ that the council had consented to his occupation of the property. He and others had paid rent until 2000 and it was clear that the Council had given overall permission for them to live in the houses as licensees and members of the co-operative.