Adverse Possession: Woo Sai Mui v Lam Island Development Company Limited

Background

In Woo Sai Mui v Lam Island Development Company Limited ([2022] HKCFI 39) Woo Sai Mui (‘the plaintiff’) sought a declaration that the defendant’s title to land in Peng Chau had been defeated by the plaintiff’s adverse possession.

The plaintiff claimed to have used the land for farming since 1980 and to have erected a building to store tools, equipment and seeds. The plaintiff’s claim failed. The court was of the clear opinion that the plaintiff had failed to come anywhere near establishing that she had taken possession of the land. It seems to have thought that she may have done little more than make occasional use of the land.

Standard of proof

The plaintiff must provide ‘compelling evidence’ of factual possession, but the standard remains the balance of probabilities test (Chang Shun Tak v Leung Sun Fat HCA 13809 / 1997 at [65]).

Is simply planting trees on open land enough?

There is a question mark over whether simply planting fruit trees on open land can be enough to demonstrate possession and intention to possess if not accompanied by some form of enclosure (Gatland Enterprises Ltd v Kwok Chi Yau CACV 260 / 2014 at [36] – [38]).

Willingness to pay rent

A squatter’s admission in cross-examination that they would have been willing to pay rent if asked is evidence of a lack of intention to possess ([49] – [57]), relying on Wong Tak Yue v Kung Kwok Wai at [49] – [57]).

Michael Lower

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