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Lawbite - mooring a boat does not secure adverse possession of the river bed

  • United Kingdom
  • Litigation and dispute management
  • Real estate
  • Real estate dispute resolution

01-06-2017

Port of London Authority v Paul Mendoza [2017] UKUT 146 (TCC)

This case reviewed the decision of the First-tier Tribunal on whether the act of mooring a boat was sufficient to evidence the intention of the owner to take adverse possession (sometimes known as “squatter’s title”) of the river bed beneath the boat.

The issues

  1. Was the mere mooring of a vessel, sufficient to establish requisite intention for adverse possession?
  2. Was it possible to acquire title through adverse possession to the bed of a river that was subject to navigation rights?

The background

On 16 November 2009, the Port of London Authority (“the Appellant”) applied to HM Land Registry for first registration of its title to pfart of the bed and foreshore of the River Thames.

A number of people objected to that application. These were referred to the Land Registration Division of the First Tier Tribunal (“the FTT”).

One of those objecting was Mr Mendoza (“the Respondent”) who lived on a houseboat which had continuously occupied the same mooring for the 13 years before the Appellant’s application. He believed he had acquired the title to the river bed beneath his boat through adverse possession.

The first tribunal

In a decision of the FTT on 7 January 2016, Judge Michael Mark found that the Respondent had acquired title by adverse possession to part of the area he claimed (enough to contain his boat).

Appeal

The Appellant appealed the FTT’s decision on the grounds that the Judge erred in finding that the Respondent had the requisite intention to possess the land in dispute.

Judgment

On the first issue, the Judge found that the Respondent could have been mooring his boat:

  • with permission or pursuant to an easement or licence
  • under the public right of navigation which included the right to moor for a short period; or
  • simply as an act of trespass with no intention to take adverse possession

It was held that the act of mooring gave no insight into the Respondent’s intentions and therefore he did not have the requisite intention for adverse possession.

On the second issue, an analogy was drawn to public footpaths. Adverse possession did not extinguish public footpath rights, so following the same logic, public navigation rights could not be extinguished by adverse possession.


Key points

  • when claiming adverse possession, the owner must show an intention to adversely possess the land – in this case the riverbed. Residential occupation of a boat alone is not enough to show this intention as houseboats do not necessarily remain in one location
  • this judgment was not to say that the mooring of a boat could never amount to adverse possession, as it would always turn on the facts of the individual case
  • the owner’s intention to possess the riverbed must be made clear to the outside world

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