Pensioners win squatters rights over front garden

Neighbour landed with £250,000 bill

Updated: 
The disputed patch of land.

An elderly Yorkshire couple have won a four-year legal battle giving them 'squatter's rights' over the grass verge outside their home.

Hilary and Edward Kirkby had tended the narrow strip of land in front of their picturesque home in Thorp Arch, near Wetherby, for more than a decade, planting it with flowers and cutting the grass.

They put up a low fence enclosing what was effectively their front garden, spread topsoil and put in two parking spaces.

But in 2012, property consultant Marcus Heaney, 50, removed the couple's fence and registered the land as his own. He immediately told the Kirkbys to stop using the land for parking or for any other reason.

Marcus Heaney

Mrs Kirkby, 72, responded by applying to have the verge transferred into her name, kicking off a four-year battle.

Mr Heaney's barrister, John Randall QC, attempted to argue that awarding the land to the Kirkbys would mean that all householders would have to be on their guard over acts of 'good neighbourliness' such as cutting grass.

"It would be a sad day for the law if the courts were to attach too much legal significance to acts which pass for nothing between good neighbours," he told Lord Justice Sales.

"Adjoining owners would have to be constantly on the watch in case their rights were being infringed."

But because Mrs Kirkby had been using the land for more than 12 years, the court ruled, it's hers under the laws of 'adverse possession', or squatter's rights.

The Kirkbys

Mr Heaney is left facing a legal bill that's been estimated at more than £250,000.

Squatting residential property is nearly always illegal. However, it's possible to obtain ownership of non-residential property or land by showing that it's been occupied for ten years, or 12 years in the case of unregistered land.

"In light of the above case, it is clear that if you use an area of land for the requisite period with an intention to possess that area of land, you could obtain a right to acquire the land by adverse possession," says Erina Pieri of law firm Taylor Wessing.

"Therefore, if you have any concerns about the way other users may be using an area of land, it would be helpful to seek legal advice to assess the circumstances as soon as possible and take steps to attempt to avoid a user obtaining a right to acquire the land by adverse possession."

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