You’ve been using a piece of land in Nova Scotia that you know is not your own for years and you’re wondering how to get legal title to this land. People commonly refer to this area of law as squatters’ rights, lawyers call it “adverse possession”. In simple terms, in order to have any legal right to someone else’s land you must have used the land in an open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse manner for 20 years.
Essentially, this means that you must had acted as if you were the true owner of the land for an uninterrupted period of 20 years. The 20 years can be accumulated by more than one person. For example, grandparents can pass the use of the land down to their children or grandchildren. But there can’t be a period of time where the true legal owner of the land used the land instead of you or your family. “Open and notorious” means that you were using the land out in the open for everyone, including the legal owner, to see.
You do not accumulate adverse possession rights if you were concealing or in anyway hiding your use or possession of the land. Your use must also be “adverse and exclusive” meaning that the true owner was not also using the land as if it was their own. For example, if it was a shore lot and you were using the land to dock your boat on occasion you would not accumulate adverse possession rights because your use was neither exclusive nor adverse to the true legal owners’ rights. However, if you had built a building, like a portion of your house, on the land in question that use would be exclusive and adverse. That’s because the legal owner was not also using that portion of the land and your use was averse to their rights.
Adverse possession does not have to be literally continual every single day in order to accumulate rights, rather the use should be continuous in that it reflects the normal use of that type of land. For example, if you were using the land to farm Christmas tress you may only visit the land on occasion during the year to fertilize, shear the trees and cut them in the winter. However, that use would be reflective of how a normal land owner would use that land.
Whether the land has been migrated to the new Land Registration System in Nova Scotia is important. In most cases, your adverse possession rights must be “crystalized” prior to the migration. This means your full 20 years of possession must have occurred prior to the land being migrated. Except in rare circumstances, you also only have 10 years post migration to register your claim.
If you meet all the criteria and can prove an adverse possession claim, the end result is that the portion of land that you possessed will legally become yours. You will become the new full legal owner. The process of accomplishing this is a complex one and generally requires a lawyer’s help.
You can read our blog on How to Make an Adverse Possession Claim in Nova Scotia to get a basic understanding of the process.
If you have any questions about adverse possession and squatters rights, we'd be happy to help. You can call us at (902) 826-3070 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting with one of our lawyers at our Tantallon law firm. You can also schedule a no commitment Issue Review Consult for $100+HST where you have the opportunity to explain your situation to a lawyer and get basic advice before deciding whether or not you'd like to retain us.
By Dianna M. Rievaj LLB, MBA - Managing Lawyer
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