In a recent case in Australia, someone who had been residing on a long term basis in a property in Sydney, which they did not own, was granted the right to own the property by virtue of ‘squatters rights’.  Do such rights exist in New Zealand?

The answer is that, although rare, such cases do exist.  This is based on ‘adverse possession’ rights. 

Adverse possession is an ancient and contentious piece of law concerning the acquisition of land.   Adverse possession is now more commonly referred to as “squatting”. 

Persons are able to apply to the Registrar General of Land to have their possession converted to ownership.

Adverse possession applies to all land in a title, for example, in situations where the registered proprietor has abandoned the land and the “squatter” has held possession for a lengthy period of time.  The Registrar General of Land is able to cancel the existing title (for the land that the applicant has been adversely occupying) and replace it with one issued in the name of the applicant, if they can show that they have had continuous possession for 20 years and continue to possess the land. 

“Continuous possession” can be shown in instances where the land has been fenced off, where cattle have been grazed on it, or in the instance of squatting, where the applicant has lived in the house continuously for 20 years.  This requirement of continuous possession means that applicants are not able to retrospectively claim possession if a house has been abandoned for 20 years and they wish to move in.

If an application and the supporting evidence establish adverse possession, notice must be given and the application served on any relevant parties.  The possession notice will be published at least twice in the local newspaper and made available to any person who may have a claim in the land.

Instances where adverse possession or “squatters rights” have granted in New Zealand are very rare, but many are unaware that there is a statutory right for squatters to gain ownership of land.  

Claire Tyler