A letter demanding possession does not stop time running in favour of a squatter

A letter from the formal owner of land to a squatter demanding the delivery up of possession does not stop the limitation period from running for the purposes of adverse possession. When the formal owner’s title is extinguished so is any right to recover damages or mesne profits for the period up to the time when title was extinguished.

In Mount Carmel Investments Ltd v Peter Thurlow Ltd ((1989) P & CR 396, CA (Eng)) MCI was the registered owner of land. R went into adverse possession in 1970. Some time around 1974 he abandoned possession in favour of PT (who were for a while R’s tenant or licensee). In 1981 MCI’s solicitor wrote to PT demanding that he give back possession of the property. R assigned his rights in the property to MCI.  The writ was only issued in 1984 (0utside the limitation period if it began in 1970).

MCI argued that the 1981 letter was enough to stop time running and to give MCI ‘constructive possession’ of the property. This argument failed. MCI argued that because R had assigned his rights to MCI the limitation period only began to run in (or after) 1974 when PT went into possession. This failed because PT was in possession with R’s consent. R subsequently abandoned possession and so he had no right to bring possession proceedings that could be assigned to MCI. Finally, it was held that MCI was not entitled to mesne profits or damages for trespass. Their right to damages was extinguished when their title was extinguished.

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