Adverse possession: Paving land as evidence of possession

In Tsoi Ping Hung v Cheung Chow Lan ([2015] HKEC 701, CA) the defendants owned land on which they had built a house. The plaintiffs owned land adjoining that of the defendants. It was covered in vegetation. In February 2000 the defendants cleared wild vegetation on the plaintiffs’ land, levelled and paved it. They sowed grass and built a small ‘golf course’ on it. The result was that the land was a metre higher than the rest of the plaintiffs’ neighbouring land. The defendants also built a shed on the land. The defendants used the land for golf practice and walking the dog. They cut the grass from time to time. In early 2001, the defendants built a fence along one boundary. The possession proceedings were issued on 3 August 2012 so the question was whether there had been factual possession and an intention to possess since August 2000. The plaintiffs contended that they were only present from 2001 when the fence was erected.

Overturning the first instance decision, the Court of Appeal found that the events that took place in 2000 were sufficient to allow the defendant’s adverse possession claim to succeed. Paving or cultivating land is a clear act of possession ([4.8] – [4.11]). In this case, even before the fence, the presence of a pre-existing ditch combined with the work of raising the ground level of the land meant that there was a 6 feet drop from the disputed land to the rest of the plaintiff’s land. This barrier was an effective way of staking an interest in the land ([4.13]).

On the intention to possess, it was true, as explained in Powell v McFarlane, that the defendants as trespassers needed to provide ‘clear and affirmative evidence that the trespasser … not only had the requisite intention to possess, but made such evidence clear to the world.’ If the use to which the land was put was equivocal, there needed to be compelling evidence of an intention to possess. The actions of 2000 were sufficient evidence of an intention to possess. The plaintiffs’ possession proceedings failed and their title was extinguished.

Michael Lower

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