A dispute between neighbours illustrates the significance of two important facts about property. Firstly, to prevent another person from obtaining a legal ‘easement’ (the right to use) or legal title to land that belongs to you but which they use as their own (by way of a process called ‘adverse possession’), you must take steps to demonstrate your ownership over it – for example, by blocking it off, occasional use, or creating a lease. The second point is that plans filed at the Land Registry are indicative only, not definitive.
The argument involved a driveway which crossed a piece of land beyond a wall. All the land belonged to the neighbouring property and the wall was situated inside the boundary of the land.
Because the original plan filed at the Land Registry was defective, it had subsequently been altered to show the ‘true boundary’, which had previously been shown as lying nearer to the wall than was actually the case. After a period of 20 years’ continuous use of the driveway, the neighbour whose house used it for access applied to register the legal right to vehicular rights of way across the land and the right to pedestrian access over the land between the driveway and the wall, so that the area could be maintained. The owner of the land opposed this, arguing that the amendment to the boundary plan in the registered title meant that the neighbour had not used the land continuously for the required period: effectively, the argument was that the change in the title plan had ‘reset the clock’.
The court rejected this argument as regards the driveway on the basis that no change in legal title had occurred. The property had remained in the ownership of the person opposing the application and thus the time of continuous use was not broken. The court refused the request to register the right to pedestrian access over the land between the driveway and the wall, however. Here another principle held sway – to register an easement, there has to be a benefit to land owned by someone else. The court did not accept that to do so in this case could offer a benefit to the applicant’s land.