Here is everything you need to know about Property Squatters and what rights do they have?
It’s hard to believe that someone can legally live on your property without your express permission. However, under the old doctrine of adverse possession, a person who occupies an uninhabited building or unused land without consent is not necessarily committing a criminal offence. This niche area of the law was brought into the spotlight in 2018 when a property developer in Sydney made $1.6m after selling a property he had claimed the title on through adverse possession after renovating and renting the premises out since 1988. While the colloquially termed “squatters’ law” has ancient roots in English Common Law, it is clear that it remains highly relevant today.
This doctrine stems from the traditional view that the property’s title rests in an individual’s physical possession of the land. The doctrine is a mixture of common law and statute, with the common law determining the requirements for the nature of the possession and statute determining the required duration of possession. Simply put, a squatter on your property may be successful in claiming title if they can prove that they have been in “possession” of the property for the established statutory time period.
“Possession” has two broad elements. Firstly, that the person claiming title has exclusive occupancy of the land in question. This typically requires the true owner to have abandoned the property. Without the owner taking significant action to repossess the land, such as by way of entry or removal of the possessor, time runs in favour of the squatter from the moment of entrance onto the abandoned land. Secondly, the squatter must prove that they had an intention from the time of possessing the land to be the exclusive owner, omitting even the true owner of the land. A squatter does not have to prove that he or she believed the land was in their ownership. Only an intention to omit all other individuals from possessing the land is required.
Thus, the true owner has a 12-year period for the recovery of unregistered land. They must prove they remain in possession of the land within this period. This is can easily be achieved by entrance onto the property as a physical demonstration of an intention to possess. However, keep in mind that once this 12-year period has lapsed, no conveyance or lease of the land will prevent the squatter from having a potentially successful claim to the title. The land’s true owner may then be forced to take formal action, such as a court proceeding, to recover ownership.
The Queensland legislation differs slightly from that of other states, making Squatter possession more difficult to achieve. Unlike in NSW, the Registrar in QLD has the authority to refuse applications to claim the title that is lacking in documentary support of exclusive possession.
Other ways to prevent a squatter from possessing the true owner’s property may be to lodge a QCAT claim for a warrant of possession under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008. Or an application can be made in the Magistrates Court for a warrant of possession under the Property Law Act 1975.
This is a complicated area of the law. If you find a squatter on your property attempting to claim title under adverse possession, it is important to be aware of your rights.
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Feel free to get in touch with our Property Law team for more information.