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Ask Clare Your Own Question
Clare, Solicitor
Category: UK Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 33955
Experience:  25 years exeperience
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My neighbour died some time ago and the local council can't

Customer Question

My neighbour died some time ago and the local council can't find a next of kin. I'm considering taking adverse possession of the property as i don't want it going to the council to sell or rent - nor do i want to see it go deralict. I've been told to put up a 'private property, do not enter' notice with my name and number, get a locksmith to change the locks (to secure the property - as the council did), inform the local police of my adverse possession and then rent it out for the next 10-12 years. And save the rent and belongings in case a relative is found so i can give it to them. But, I've just read: "...until recently squatting in England and Wales was generally a civil matter, not a criminal matter, but this has now changed to some extent. In September 2012 section 144 of the LASPO made it a criminal offence to trespass in residential properties with the intention of living there." Does this mean i can't change the locks to secure the property? What's the best way to secure and control the property for a future adverse possession?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: UK Property Law
Expert:  Clare replied 1 year ago.


Thank you for your question

My name is ***** ***** I shall do my best to help you.

The Council will not receive the property in any event.

If there is no Will then the property will stand empty until the Estate is claimed - and if it is not claimed then it will revert to the crown.

You certainly cannot simply change the locks and rent the property out - and tenants would have a right to claim damages from you if the rightful owners came along - and squatting is indeed now illegal.

You woudl have to take possession of the property - pay all the bills on it and keep it in good repair for 10 years before having a potential claim

Details here

Please ask if you need further details


Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Clare,Thanks for the swift response. And thanks for confirming I cannot rent the property. I previously read the link you sent. It does not clearly state how to take the initial steps to gain control of the property. This is the advice I require.Would you mind clarifying a few points? I know Adverse Possession is not black and white and has lot's of different case law but it would be great if you could answer the following based on your experience and knowledge of case law.1. How long is it before searches for Will & next-of-kin stop and the crown take the property?
2. Is it illegal for me to get a locksmith to change the locks on the front and rear door of the property (as the council did)?
3. Is the above a positive step of proof that I have secured the property and I'm in control of it?
4. If not, I plan to build an attractive (to keep the neighbours happy) wooden fence and gate with lock around the front of the property and add a lock to the gate for the rear garden access as this is currently unlocked. Does this class as securing the property?
5. Is it illegal for me to use the land on the front and rear garden to grow vegetables once I have secured it - or is this trespassing? I've read this shows regular use of the land and the second strongest case for being in control, after actually living there - which we have established is no longer legal.
6. If I do change the locks and pay the bills am I allowed to enter the property to turn on the heating in the winter, for example, or is this trespassing?
7. Can I use the property for personal storage - as proof I'm in regular use of the property?
8. Can I charge people to store items there to cover the cost of me paying the bills and upkeep of the property - as a relative could appear before the 10-12 years?As long as the property is kept in good condition and I don't loose money, I know the neighbours and my wife will be happy. And if I do get adverse possession after 10-12 years then it will obviously be an added bonus.Many thanks.
Expert:  Clare replied 1 year ago.


how long has it been since your neighbour died?


Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Three months.
Expert:  Clare replied 1 year ago.

It is too early to do anything at this stage without risking criminal prosecution

Three months is no time at all in the Probate process and you shoudl not contemplate doing anything at all until say two years have passed.

Be aware that no locksmith will change the locks unless you can prove you are entitled to do so - so you will have to deal with that yourself.

So you do decide to take action then a fence with a key and using the garden would indeed show use of the property.

Entering the house would be trespass but without doing so you will not be able to make a claim at all.

You cannot charge people to store things there - it is not your property. If you do charge people then you would have to pay every penny to a relative - withOUT claiming any costs

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