Adverse Possession commonly referred to as Squatting is merely occupying land without permission of the owners. This practice is common in Jamaica and many people leave their properties behind without being aware of the risks. There have been countless instances where unoccupied plots are taken over by persons who build homes on them, live for years, and refuse to move upon the return of the owners. Often, police and the courts have to get involvedto begin the daunting process of repossessing the property.
Adverse Possession is a legal principle which states that if a squatter occupies a property or land long enough, he may become the owner. In other words, land ownership is a vested privilege bestowed by the Crown (government) and if you “sleep” on that right you forfeit ownership. In Jamaica, the squatter must have resided on the property for at least 12 years, however in special circumstances it may be extended to 30 years.
A recent Privy Council decision has reinforced squatters’ rights. The court held in Recreational Holdings 1 (Jamaica) Ltd v Lazarus  UKPC 22 that an owner whose title has been extinguished through adverse possession will be unable to sell his property because he cannot pass a ‘good title’ to a potential purchaser, also, being unaware that your property has been adversely possessed is no excuse, it still cannot trump the possessor’s title.This means that even if someone living on land that is not his does not seek to legally possess it, the rights of the registered owner can still be terminated.
The requirements to acquire ownership of adversely possessed property in Jamaica are not extensive. Squatters simply have to acquire title by making an application for adverse possession to the Registrar of Titles at the Land Titles Office on the island. They will need the following:
The squatters must provide their name and personal information:
- Information on what the owner has done to the property for at least 12 years, such as fencing or bushing;
- Personal details of at least two persons who are aware of the squatter’s residence on the land for the given period;
- A certified copy of the title or information that will allow it to be easily obtained;
- Information on attempts made to locate the registered owner;
- Certificate of Payment of Taxes;
- Land Valuation Information and a Surveyor’s Identification report.
The crucial ingredient for adverse possession is therefore, time. This means that if you own property on the island and have not granted permission for anyone to occupy it, you have to ensure that it is properly secure by erecting fences or gates around your land and posting “no trespassing” signs. This is a good way to deter trespassers but after some time, persons may realise that no one is occupying the land so there is no guarantee that it will prevent adverse occupation or allow you to claim against the trespasser. In such cercimustances it may be warranted to enter into a lease with the occupier at a nominal rent as the status of the occupier will become one of tenant and this will break the legal period required to establish advserse possession.
If someone has been squatting on your property make a report to local police immediately and engage an attorney as you may need to take action in the courts to eject the trespasser.