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What is adverse possession?

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession: what is it and how does it work in practise?

8th November 2018

What is adverse possession?

If you’ve been following the news lately, you would have seen the case in which a court awarded a property developer the title to a vacant house after possessing it for 20 years. The developer took up possession, changed the locks, renovated the property and proceeded to rent it out without the consent of the owning family. In deciding this case, the Court relied on the doctrine of adverse possession, colloquially known as the ‘squatters law’.

So, what is adverse possession and how does it work in practise?

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession occurs when one party occupies another’s land with the intention of using it as their own. The occupation is non-consensual and may result in full title over the land being transferred to the adverse possessor. It is premised upon old property law principles which were designed to protect the rights of parties who did not have documents proving their ownership of a property.

What are the requirements to establish adverse possession?

The legality and requirements of a claim differ between States and Territories. For example, in NSW an adverse possessor must:

  • Be in possession of the land as the owner;
  • Be exercising peacefully the rights of ownership in the normal sense; and
  • Have done the aforementioned conditions for 12 years without being challenged by the rightful owner.

Whilst the requirements to establish a case of adverse possession are roughly the same, the timeframes do differ. It is best to check with a property lawyer in your State or Territory to determine the correct timeframes and requirements.


Whilst some people question the appropriateness and validity of such laws, adverse possession is still good law in Australian courts.

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Ashlee Johnson

Ashlee is a legal intern working in the content team at Lawpath. She is interested in information technology law, and all things innovation. Ashlee is currently completing a Dual Degree of Law/Commerce at the University of New South Wales.