Illegal structures and adverse possession

Wan Hok Taoist Association v Nos 88 – 90 Pan Hoi Street (IO) ([2011] HKEC 1693, CFI) was an undefended adverse possession claim. The plaintiffs had erected illegal structures on the roof of a building and used the roof for religious ceremonies. They had the necessary possession and intention to possess for the requisite period. The question was whether their claim must fail as a matter of public policy. The claim succeeded.  Deputy Judge Carlson said:

‘[I]f the means of possession of a piece of land or an area … is illegal that will not prevent the possession running adversely, and provided it runs for the requisite period, that would be sufficient to extinguish the legal owner’s title, but on the other hand, where the act of possession itself is illegal then the policy of the law is to say that the possession and time cannot run against the legal owner.’ ([7])

Here the means of possession (the stuctures) were illegal but the possession itself was not illegal ([8]).

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