Adverse possession claim defeated by estoppel

St Pancras and Humanist Housing Association Ltd v Leonard

[2008] EWCA Civ 1442


In a claim for possession the claimant successfully used estoppel to defeat the defendant's argument that he was entitled to remain in possession by reason of adverse possession.


The defendant had been in possession of a garage since 1975 and remained so until the claim for possession. On the face of it, he was therefore entitled to ownership of the garage by reason of adverse possession (12 years possession prior to the coming into force of the Land Registration Act 2002). However, he was not aware of that right and at meetings of the management committee of the claimant's predecessor in title (in 1985) he led the committee to believe that he was not asserting ownership or any other preferential rights over others in relation to the garage. In reliance upon this, the predecessor took a lease of some land that included the garage. In doing so it acted to its detriment by paying a premium and covenanting to keep the garage in good repair. The county court judge held that the defendant was therefore estopped from raising adverse possession as a defence to the claim. The defendant appealed.


The defendant argued that as he had not known about the law on adverse possession at the relevant committee meetings, he had not behaved unconscionably. He did not become aware of his potential right to ownership by adverse possession until about 2006. However, he did believe that he had an exclusive right to use the garage and had not disclosed that to the committee. It did not therefore matter that he did not know the legal basis on which he could have kept the garage. Sir William Aldous at para 30:

    "As the judge held "Those attending the meeting … would have proceeded in the general belief that when negotiating for a lease which would give them actual control and possession of the garage according to the interest being created, Mr Leonard at all times believed that he had a possessory right which enabled him to use the garage." Mr Jourdan [counsel for the defendant] accepted that Mr Leonard believed that he had exclusive possession as against the other residents of the houses, but he submitted that at no time did he know that he had a right of possession as against Camden. He is correct that prior to 2006 Mr Leonard had no knowledge of his right to ownership due to the law on adverse possession. He did however believe he had the right to use the garage. He believed that that right would continue after the Co-op acquired a lease. Despite that he encouraged the Co-op to enter into negotiations with Camden on the basis that the garage would become leasehold property with the obvious consequence that it would be available communally."


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