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Living outside the system? The (im)morality of urban squatting after the Land Registration Act 2002

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The Land Registration Act 2002 (LRA 2002) has effectively curtailed the law permitting the acquisition of title through adverse possession in relation to most types of adverse possessor, including the paradigmatic urban squatter. While the traditional principles for the acquisition of title through adverse possession enabled a squatter to secure rights in land ‘automatically’ after 12 years, under the LRA 2002 an urban squatter seeking to defend their possession of land in this way must now apply to the Land Registry, who will serve a notice on the registered proprietor alerting them to his or her presence. This procedure provides the landowner with an opportunity to recover possession of the property before the squatter’s occupation has given rise to any claim on the title to the land. On the whole, these reforms have been presented as, and accepted as being, wholly justified in the context of a modern regime of ‘title by registration’. This paper argues, however, that the reform of adverse possession also implements a contentious moral agenda in relation to advertent squatters and to absent landowners. While these provisions of the LRA 2002 will have important practical and philosophical consequences, the Law Commission has attempted to close off any prospect of further debate on the subject, without explicit consideration of current social and housing issues associated with urban squatting, or of the matrix of moral issues at stake in such cases.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Law, Durham University

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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