Important ruling on land rights

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A recent ruling in the Court of Appeal confirms that land owners do not have to take costly steps if they want to prevent people from parking on their land.

In the case of Winterburn v Bennett [2016], the court was asked to determine whether or not individuals could prevent someone from claiming an easement over their land simply by erecting notices which clearly indicate that the area of land is for private use only.

In a judgment last month, the Court of Appeal said it was satisfied that in this case, the notices were in themselves sufficient and the owner was not obliged to take any further steps to prevent people acquiring rights over the land.

The legal dispute centred around customers and suppliers of a fish and chip shop using the car park of the nearby Conservative Club, which on occasion caused difficulties for the club’s visitors.

Throughout the period involved there was a sign placed at the entrance to the car park which read: “Private car park. For the use of club patrons only. By order of the committee” and a similar notice was in place in a clubhouse window.

The owners of the fish and chip shop argued that their customers had parked there “as of right” for more than 20 years, without permission and “without force”. The Court of Appeal had to consider whether the continuous presence of these signs was sufficient to render the parking by those using the chip shop as “contentious”.

It was decided that in cases such as this one, where a land owner had made their position obvious through clearly visible signs, they did not have to take further steps such as confronting the perpetrators in person or instigating legal proceedings. For this purpose “force” did not mean violence. Parking where there was a clear sign prohibiting this was sufficient “force” for these purposes.

The case reaffirms principles previously established four years ago in Taylor v Betterment Properties (Weymouth) Ltd [2012].

For more information on land rights, please contact Victoria Sandberg in our Commercial Property team.

Please note the contents of this note are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.