Ask Our Experts – Q & A on Property Law with Paul Westwell

Cottage extension

Q1. My son bought a cottage over 12 years ago. The previous owner told him that the land down the side came with the cottage, even though it was fenced off. However when he put in plans for an extension the council said it was their land and offered to sell it to him for £1800. If he can’t claim the land, can my son bill the council for keeping it tidy?

A1. The fact that the land was fenced off will tend to weigh against your son making a successful claim to own it. Of course your son should have checked the deeds together with his solicitor when he bought the cottage in the first place to find out exactly what he was buying. He should discuss this with a solicitor in more detail now. I don’t think he will have any joy sending the council a bill.


Squatters’ rights

Q2. Can you tell us how we go about claiming “squatters’ rights”? The CAB, the Land Registry and the council all tell us to see a solicitor.

A2. That’s probably good advice. If you are living in a property or using a piece of land without the owner making any attempt to reclaim it, you may be able to claim ownership though “adverse possession”. You would have to be able to provide evidence that you had used the land as your own without challenge, and would be required to make a statutory declaration to this effect. If the land in question is unregistered then adverse possession can be claimed after 12 years occupation. If the land is registered then 10 years occupation is required but it is harder to make a successful claim for adverse possession if the land is registered as the owner will be notified and can rebut the claim.


The scenic route

Q3. My neighbour has a pedestrian right of access at the rear of my house. I want to build an extension which will mean that he will have to walk further round to reach his own back door. He’s happy to do this, but should I obtain his agreement in writing, or will I need to get a solicitor to alter our deeds?

A3. It depends whether your title deeds show a specific path by which your neighbour has a right to cross your land, or whether he just has general access. Even though your current neighbour is happy to walk round, you don’t want a future owner of the house next door claiming he has a right to walk through your kitchen! Check your deeds thoroughly and if you’re in any doubt see a solicitor.


Living rent-free

Q4. My husband left me ten years ago. He now wants a divorce so that he can re-marry. Although we have agreed that I can remain in the house it is still in joint names. Would it be possible to put it into my sole name and arrange a financial settlement?

A4. It depends how well off your husband is and whether there are any other assets involved. If you want the house transferred to your sole name you are effectively asking your husband to give you his half of the property. It’s possible he may be prepared to do this if he already has alternative accommodation, either outright or retaining a charge on the property for his share which he can redeem if you sell the house, die or remarry. It could be complicated so you should see a solicitor.


Extra precautions

Q5. My daughter is in the final stages of her divorce. The court has awarded her the house, but her solicitor has advised her to take out indemnity insurance costing £260 in case her former husband goes bankrupt within the next five years. Is this necessary?

A5. If someone goes bankrupt the court can set aside some property transactions where a house is transferred at less than the market value. If the judge considered all financial arrangements before making the transfer order it is very unlikely that creditors would be able to have the transfer set aside. If on the other hand the order was agreed between the parties “by consent” and the judge merely approved it, it’s possible the creditors could have it set aside. In the latter case the solicitor would be right to suggest indemnity insurance to safeguard against the creditors claiming a stake in your daughter’s house.

How we can help

Should you need expert legal advice regarding any of the above or indeed any other property law matters, please contact Paul Westwell at or telephone 0161 330 6821.

Alternatively, you are welcome to attend any of our free legal surgeries. Please click here for dates and times – No appointment necessary.


The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.