FAMOUS CASES | Your Land is My Land: Reeder v Woodward.

AuthorBowal, Peter

September 1, 2020By Peter Bowaland Roberto Torres Martinez

[T]he appellants... were, after all, the registered owners of the disputed parcel, which the respondents have now acquired through adverse possession. The litigation was necessary to resolve this dispute, even though it was undoubtedly expensive and unfortunate for both sides. - Reeder v Woodward, 2016 ABCA 91 at para 34 Adverse possession, also known as "squatters' rights", is an old common law doctrine where one may acquire ownership to another's land by simply occupying it for a certain period of time. Since the supply of land is limited, the theory is that those who need it and can best use it should own land.

From the mid-1500s to the 1800s, recovering one's land from a "squatter" or occupier was subject to a 60-year limitation period. Occupiers who could show actual possession of the land for that time could keep the land. Lawmakers reduced this limitation period to 20 years in 1833 and then to the current 10 years in Alberta.

The Land Titles system tracks and assures title (ownership) to land through the Land Titles Act. Formal registration of documentation provides landowners certainty in ownership of their land. Registered owners have priority over all others claiming ownership. The system tracks and digitally stores all interests and changes to land ownership. It operates on the mirror principle (the register always reflects actual ownership) and the curtain principle (the register is complete on its face so no one needs to verify historical records).

Adverse possession claims are not documented or registered in the land titles system. They represent a common law exception to the legislative framework and the mirror and curtain principles. Adverse possessors may have their claims validated by judges and then entered on the title to the land.

"Adverse" means that occupation of the property must be without consent of the registered owner. This occupation is basically trespass. The elements of adverse possession are:

* the registered owner must not be possessing the disputed property and must be aware that the occupier is possessing it

* the occupier must be intentionally occupying and using the land to exclude the owner and

* the occupier's occupation and use must be exclusive, continuous, open, visible and notorious for the required statutory time period.

Five provinces still allow adverse possession in some form:

Province Act Limitation Period Alberta Limitations Act (s 3)...

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