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Possessory Title

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The recent case of Clark v. Kwasney decided by Mr. Justice Reid here in Hamilton further emphasizes the difficulty of establishing “squatters’ rights”. Counsel (Bordin) was unable to convince their clients to settle and therefore the matter proceeded in an expeditious manner to a hearing. The result was a split decision. The fenced area was lost and the unfenced area remained as per the deeds.

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The conversion of both properties to Qualified Land Titles occurred in 1995 and thus no possessor title could be acquired after such. The fencing only went part way between the two properties from the rear and over extended unto the neighbour’s property at its end by about 16 inches. However, if the fence line extended. it gobbled up about 2 meters of the neighbor’s property at the front boundary.

As the judge put it “The test for extinguishment of title by adverse possession is an onerous one since the law generally protects the true owner of property and does not interfere readily with registered title”. The Real PropertyLimitations Act, Sections 4. 5 (I) and I 5 establish a I 0 year period ofoccupation as necessary to extinguish a registered owner’s title or conversely the registered owner must exert some ownership rights within such I 0 year period. That period must occur before title is put into Land Titles.

The Ontario Court ofAppeal in Keefer v. Arilloua ( 1976). 13 O.R.(2d) 680 reiterated U1e rules: A person claiming possessory title must establish:

I. Actual possession for the statutory period by themselves or those through whom U1ey claim:

  1. Such possession be with the intention of excluding from possession the owners or those entitled to possession: and
  2. Discontinuance of possession by the owner and all others entilled to possession for the statutory period.

Then come the important adjectives to the first element-the occupation must be ·’open. notorious. peaceful. adverse. exclusive. actual and continuous” and the failure ofan) ofthese elements is fatal to the claim.

  • open and notorious-the claimant is using the property as ifowner and gives the true owner the ability to take action;
  • exclusive-the registered owner is not using the property:
  • adverse-the claimant is in possession without the owner’s permission.

If both parties share a misunderstanding at to the true ownership of a piece of property, then possessory title is not established as there was no intent to exclude the titled owner.

The facts ofthe case were not particularly important except to the participants. The fenced area was lost, the unfenced grassy area was not, as there was no structure to prove evidence ofexclusion. The person claiming the squatters’ rights must show that its use ofthe disputed area is inconsistent with the registered owner’s possession ofit for the purpose for which the owner intended to use it. In this particular case. the owner’s use was passive. i.e. not really used but acting as a buffer between the driveway and the property line.

Although not mentioned in this case. it illustrates a slightly different approach to the ”possession” exercised by a squatter called ‘·inconsistent usc”. If the acts of the person claiming title by possession are not inconsistent with the owner’s intended use ofthe disputed parcel of land, then such acts will not be sufficient to show an intention to exclude the owner. This inconsistent usc test was used in an appeal ofa Deputy Registrar of Land fitles case-Marotta v. Creative Investments Limited (2008 Can L II 15772). If the use is not ”inconsistent”, then there cannot be an intent to exclude.

ln larger parcels of land, some owners have used the argument of··futurc development” to defend against serious “use” encroachments including fencing. In other words, if land is held for future development, fencing ora portion ofthe land by a squatter may not be enough to defeat the owner’s legitimate title since an owner ofa large parcel may not care ifa small portion is fenced.

Mutual mistake as to what the real boundary ofa property is may also defeat squatter’s claims. If both parties thought a given boundary was proper and it turned out not to be so. then the squatter had no intention to exclude and therefore loses in any contest.

The issue of prescriptive easements will be left to a future article.

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