Disputes over land: love thy neighbour

Disputes over ownership of strips of land between two properties are all too common, and usually arise from a mis-drawn boundary map and suchlike. However, a recent case in the Appeal Court resulted in the apparently farcical decision that two neighbours each possessed a valid registered title to the same strip of land 4 metres long by 2 metres wide. Although this sounds crazy, the decision actually enabled the position to be tidied up rather neatly.

The initial problem arose because the strip of land, which had previously been registered as part of 29 Milner Street for nearly a century, was also added by the Registrar, in error, to the registered title for 31 Milner Street in 1986. When this mistake was spotted the owner of Number 29, Mr Horace Parshall, attempted to have the mistake rectified, but the owner of Number 31, Ms Clara Hackney, objected that she had what is known as a possessory title to the disputed land by virtue of 12 years adverse possession of the land. If that were upheld nothing could be done and Number 31 would keep the land.

However in the case, Parshall v Hackney, the judges decided that both parties had a valid registered title and therefore Number 31 never had adverse possession in the first place, and so couldn’t claim ownership on that basis. They further decided that mistakes in the registration of title do occur, and that the existing procedure for rectifying errors in land registration should be followed to enable Number 29 to get their land back. The judges clearly found a way to enable Number 29 to get their strip of land back, even if to do so they had to come to what appeared to be a pretty strange decision.

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