Posts Tagged ‘Adverse possession’

Adverse possession: the slightest act of the paper owner sufficient to retain possession

September 17, 2017

Tierra Trading Ltd v Land Base Ltd ([2017] HKEC 1809) was an adverse dispute between neighbours. The disputed land comprised landings and staircases between the neighbouring buildings. The plaintiffs were the registered owners of the disputed land and they sought an order for possession against their neighbours (the defendants). The defendants claimed to have acquired title by adverse possession. They failed to establish the factual basis of their claim to have been in possession. Further, Deputy Judge Kenneth Kwok SC pointed to the statement by Slade J in Powell v McFarlane that the slightest act done by an owner in possession would negative discontinuance of possession. The plaintiffs had included the disputed land in their calculation of the Gross Floor Area of the development built on their land. This inclusion was a sufficient act to indicate their continued possession.

Michael Lower

Tierra Trading Ltd v Land Base Ltd ([2017] HKEC 1809) was an adverse possession dispute between neighbours. The disputed land comprised landings and staircases between the neighbouring buildings. The plaintiffs were the registered owners of the disputed land and they sought an order for possession against their neighbours (the defendants). The defendants claimed to have acquired title by adverse possession.

They failed to establish the factual basis of their claim to have been in possession. Further, Deputy Judge Kenneth Kwok SC pointed to the statement by Slade J in Powell v McFarlane that the slightest act done by an owner in possession would negative discontinuance of possession. The plaintiffs had included the disputed land in their calculation of the Gross Floor Area of the development built on their land. This inclusion was a sufficient act to indicate their continued possession.

Michael Lower

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Objective nature of the intention to possess: where the squatter believed itself to be the true owner

September 10, 2017

In Pang Yiu Chor v Wong Wai Leung ([2017] HKEC 1874) the Government mistakenly believed itself to be the owner of land in Fanling. In fact, the land belonged to the plaintiffs.

The Government granted permits to occupy the land to licensees in the early 1960s. These licences were taken over by later generations of the families of the original licensees.

The plaintiffs informed the Government of their ownership in 2000. The Government terminated the licences in 2003.

The question was whether the Government had defeated the plaintiff’s title by adverse possession. The plaintiffs contended that this was not the case; the Government’s belief that it was the owner of the paper title, they argued, meant that it had no intention to possess.

This argument failed. Anthony Chan J was able to point to a number of Hong Kong and English authorities showing that believing oneself to be the true owner does not prevent a squatter from having the intention to possess.

The intention to possess requirement demands an intention ‘to exclude the world at large, including the owner, from the land so far as is reasonably practicable and so far as the law allows’. Further, ‘[e]vidence of subjective intent should be approached with caution. Intention is normally better assessed from the acts of the possessor in the light of the nature of the land and its use’ (Tsang Foo Keung v Chu Jim Mi Jimmy CACV 178 / 2015 at [22]).

That the Government had the necessary intention was clear from its intentional exercise of power over the land: ‘There can be little doubt that the Government had every intention to exclude any person who was on the land without its expressed or implied permission. This can only be consistent with the requisite animus possidendi ([49]).

The Court of Appeal said in Cheung Kwong Yuen v Sun Hai Fang ([2016] 1 HKLRD 464) that ‘ “adverse” in this context is a convenient label only, in recognition of the fact that the possession is adverse to the interests of the paper owner.’

The Government had defeated the plaintiffs’ title; it had been in possession of the land up to 2003 through its licensees.

That said, the defendants (the licensees) had no title to the land. Their possession was attributable to that of the Government.

Michael Lower

 

 

Adverse possession: intention to possess when squatter was a licensee

September 5, 2017

In Jin Yu Chia v Personal Representatives of Lee Ah Hsin ([2017] HKEC 1829) the plaintiff lived with the registered owner of a flat from 1991 onwards. The plaintiff claimed that the relationship was that of sworn mother and sworn daughter.

The registered owner died in 1994 but the plaintiff remained in possession and paid for all outgoings in respect of the flat. Many years later the representatives of the registered owners sought to evict the plaintiff. She claimed to have defeated the estate’s title by adverse possession.

The plaintiff was easily able to establish that she had been in possession of the flat for the requisite period but her claim failed. Wilson Chow J held that she lacked the necessary intention to possess.

In Wong Tak Yue v Kung Kwok Wai, the Court of Final Appeal held that a squatter who acknowledged that they would have paid rent had it been demanded lacked the necessary intention to possess. It seems, then, that even a purely intra-mental acceptance that there is someone with a title superior to the squatter means that, in Hong Kong, there is no intention to possess. It would not be enough to be prepared to use the processes of the law to make the owner prove his title.

Thus, where a squatter’s possession began under the terms of a lease or licence but continued when that arrangement ended, the squatter has also to show an accompanying change in mindset. The squatter must establish that they had come to believe that there was no one with a superior title (or at least not with a superior title that they would acknowledge in any circumstances). This will be a very difficult thing to prove.

Michael Lower

 

Adverse possession: death of licensor terminates a licence

June 26, 2017

The facts of Hsieh Haw Shane Gary v Chang Ho Ying ([2017] HKEC 1246) illustrate that a licensor’s death terminates a licence to occupy land.

Madam Chang was registered as the owner of a flat (‘the flat’). She died intestate in 1966. Letters of Administration were granted to Mr. Chang, her husband, in 1967. He was solely beneficially entitled to the flat but the legal title was never assigned into his name.

Mr. Chang married Madam Lee in 1970. He died intestate in 1984. Madam Lee did not seek Letters of Administration de bonis non in respect of Madam Chang’s estate. Madam Lee took possession of the flat on her husband’s death and rented it out.

Madam Lee moved to Malaysia in 1998. She gave the keys to the flat to her son, Gary. Gary paid all of the expenses in respect of the flat and collected the rents from then on. Madam Lee died in 2002.

The question was whether Gary had acquired title by adverse possession by 2013 when the flat (and the whole building of which it formed part) was acquired by a developer pursuant to the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance (Cap. 545).

Mr. Chang’s death in 1984 brought an end to any licence that he may have granted to Madam Lee. Gary began a new period of possession in his own name when he was given the keys and managed the property from 1998. He had therefore been in adverse possession for more than twelve years by 2013.

Gary had defeated Madam Chang’s title and he was entitled to the proceeds of sale of the flat.

Michael Lower

Adverse possession and the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance

June 19, 2017

In Chung Chiu Hing v Law Sam ([2017] HKEC 1198) Madam Law was the registered owner of a flat (‘the Flat’). P claimed to have acquired title through adverse possession. The Flat had been sold pursuant to the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance (‘the Ordinance’) and P further claimed to be entitled to the share of the proceeds of sale attributable to the Flat.

Madam Law was the registered owner of the Flat. She granted an oral tenancy to P’s mother-in-law. Madam Law died in 1981. At some point she had simply stopped collecting the rent due under the agreement.

C, P’s husband, moved into the Flat to look after the Mother-in-Law in 1985 and they had joint possession of the Flat. The Mother-in-Law moved out in 1999 and P moved in at around the same time. C died in 2000. P continued in possession from then on.

Chu J. had little difficulty in accepting that the Mother-in-Law and C had been in possession with the necessary intention to possess since 1986 at the latest. P had taken over this possession

Time could only start to run when the oral tenancy agreement came to an end. There was no evidence that the Mother-in-Law or C would have been prepared to pay rent if it had been demanded in 1986; this evidence of their intention to possess suggested that the tenancy had ended.

In any event, section 12(2) of the Limitation Ordinance deems an oral periodic tenancy to come to an end one year after its grant (or from the date of the most recent receipt of rent if later than that).

P had defeated Madam Law’s title. Madam Law’s shares had, however, been sold pursuant to the Ordinance. The Ordinance provided for the relevant share of the proceeds of sale to be paid to the person who had been the owner of the undivided shares prior to the sale. The question was whether the adverse possession claim made P the owner of the undivided shares for this purpose.

Chu J. held that it did; the Ordinance required the owner of the undivided shares to give vacant possession. Madam Law could not give vacant possession because of P’s adverse possession defence. P could be regarded as the owner of the undivided shares for the purposes of the Ordinance.

Alternatively, P’s title was to be regarded as an incumbrance. The Ordinance required the proceeds of sale to be applied towards the discharge of any incumbrance.

Michael Lower

Adverse possession: the significance of a failure to fence rural land

June 3, 2017

In Winpo Development Ltd v Wong Kar Fu ([2017] HKEC 1093) P sought an order for possession in respect of land occupied by D. D relied on adverse possession in his defence and counterclaim.

The claim concerned a large and remote area of land in the New Territories. D’s family had lived on and farmed the land since at least 1968.

The land was unfenced. Recorder Whitehead SC accepted that this fact tells strongly against D having had possession of the land ([64]). Here, however, the natural landscape formed clear barriers; fencing would have been superfluous and impractical ([65]).

D had shown the intention to possess. He and his family dealt with the land ‘as an occupying owner might have been expected to deal with it, and to the exclusion of the world at large, including the owner with the paper title’ ([69]).

D’s adverse possession defence succeeded.

Michael Lower

Common intention constructive trust: context

April 26, 2017

Cheung Lai Mui v Cheung Wai Shing ([2017] HKEC 740) concerned property that had been owned by three brothers (W, F and K) as tenants in common in equal shares.

W died and D1 and D2 inherited W’s share. When F and K died, P (K’s adopted daughter) applied to be administratrix and executrix of their respective estates.

D3 was D1’s son. He claimed to be solely beneficially entitled as a result of a common intention constructive trust. This succeeded.

This was a traditional Chinese family residing in the New Territories ([78]). D3 was the only male descendant of the family. This was a significant fact that lent credence to the allegation of the common intention.

There was evidence of express discussions concerning the common intention and other surrounding circumstances that made it likely that the common intention had come into existence.

The lack of any formal written evidence of the common intention was understandable in the family context ([94] – [95]).

A defence of estoppel by standing by also succeeded ([103]).

So did D3’s adverse possession claim. He had erected a gate. This was an unambiguous assertion of control even though the gate had not been locked ([108]).

Michael Lower

Adverse possession by co-owner in breach of DMC

April 10, 2017

In Foremost Hill Ltd v Li Hon ([2017] HKEC 708) P and D owned adjoining shops in a building covered by a Deed of Mutual Covenant (‘DMC’). P had been in possession of part of D’s shop (‘the disputed area’) since 1981 (possibly earlier) due to a wrongly positioned partition wall. P claimed to have acquired title to the disputed area by adverse possession. The court agreed.

There was a clear ouster; P’s actions were incompatible with D’s right to exclusive occupation of the disputed area.

D also relied on the DMC covenant provisions conferring on each owner a right to the exclusive use of its own unit. Andrew Chung J commented that this effectively raised the question as to whether adverse possession can ever operate as between co-owners of units covered by a DMC ([25]).

The matter seemed not be covered by authority and should be approached from first principles.

An action to enforce the DMC term as a contractual term was time-barred after six years (section 4(1) of the Limitation Ordinance).

There was no limitation period for an action to enforce a restrictive covenant in equity but the doctrine of laches applies. The adverse possession began so long ago that it would be inequitable to allow D to enforce the covenant against P.

Andrew Chung J. also agreed with the proposition that since the action was, in substance, an action to recover land the limitation period in section 7(2) is engaged ([37]).

Michael Lower

Joint adverse possession?

December 17, 2016

U Po Chu v Tsang Pui Ling [2016] HKEC 2673, CA, concerned a two storey stone house in Tsuen Wan. P brought possession proceedings against D1, a former tenant of part of the ground floor, amongst others. D1 relied on adverse possession; she stopped paying rent in 1985 but remained in possession. Other people occupied other parts of the building. D1 claimed to have been in adverse possession of the whole building jointly with the occupiers of the other parts.This claim was rejected at first instance and in the current proceedings the Court of Appeal (Cheung JA giving the judgment) refused leave to appeal. The judge at first instance had been quite right to hold that there was no evidence that the squatters were in joint possession of the whole building; on the facts of this case, each was in possession of its own part. While a successful claim by D1 to the part of the house that she had occupied was a possibility, it had not been pleaded and it was too late to introduce such a claim.

Michael Lower

Adverse possession: where part of the limitation period is taken up by squatter’s declaration proceedings

August 4, 2016

In Tang Wai Tung v Tang Wai Lun ([2016] 3 HKLRD 96, CA) TWL claimed to have acquired title to Tso lands through adverse possession, having continued a period of adverse possession begin by his father, TPK. This may have been possible because there was a period of time during which there were no new members whose claim would not be defeated by a successful adverse possession claim. The claim failed because TWL could not establish factual possession. The Court of Appeal (Yuen JA giving the judgment) also considered an interesting issue concerning the effect of litigation commenced during the limitation period. Here, TPK began proceedings against the Tso in 1998 and these were taken over by TWL after TPK’s death. Amongst other things, TPK sought a declaration that the Tsos title to the land had been defeated by adverse possession. In its defence, the Tso denied this but it did not counterclaim for possession. The Court of Appeal considered that the 1998 proceedings (eventually struck out in 2011) stopped the limitation period running despite the absence of an express claim to possession by the Tso.  The court had to look at the substance of the issue and the claim to possession was at the heart of the 1999 proceedings ([49]). Further, TPK’s conduct in bringing the proceedings could be taken into account. Bringing the action, and then failing to progress it, may well have been motivated by a desire to prevent the Tso from bringing its own action to recover possession ([50]).

TWL also claimed that the disputed land had been conveyed to his grandfather. The court had serious concerns about the documents produced in support of this claim. In any event, there was no evidence that consent to a sale had been obtained  pursuant to section 15 of the New Territories Ordinance. This omission would invalidate the transaction in any event (Light Ocean Investments Ltd v Emway Development Ltd [1994] 3 HKC 31).

Michael Lower