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What are squatter's rights in Ontario?

It is human nature to test limits, and the realm of property boundaries is no different. Neighbours sometimes encroach on a boundary accidentally, and other times quite willfully. It can involve moving a fence a few feet inside your property line, improperly locating a new backyard shed or pool, or repaving and widening a driveway onto your property and hoping you will not notice or object. In fact, people who have been occupying a portion of your land for several years in this manner may come to regard it as legally belonging to them – a situation termed “squatter’s rights” in popular culture.

Squatter’s rights, also known as "adverse possession" in property law, generally refers to a situation where others who continuously use a portion of your land for a legally specified number of years — in the absence of your objection to that use — can potentially claim legal use to that portion of your property.

In Ontario, the law sets out a series of conditions for a claim of title by possession. This generally requires the squatter to be in "open, notorious and continuous" possession of a section of the true owner's land for at least 10 uninterrupted years. Furthermore they must have an intention of excluding the owner from using their land and be able to verify that they had, in fact, accomplished that. In order for the “squatter” to legally prevent the registered owner's right to occupy and use the property, they must prove their case in court. After that they must take additional steps to gain legal title to that portion of the property.

But gaining legal rights to a portion of land through squatters’ rights may soon be a thing of the past in Ontario. Most property in the Greater Toronto Area is now registered under the Land Titles Act. This is significant for homeowners because adverse possession is not permitted once lands have been converted to Land Titles. If you are making/defending a claim of adverse possession, it must be demonstrated that it had been taking place for 10 years before that date of conversion. For many properties in southern Ontario that pivotal date happened almost 20 years ago.

To learn more (and read about how an English farmer acquired nearly 25 hectares of prime development land for nothing) see Bob Aaron’s column, Time is running out on Ontario squatters’ rights.

Becoming informed is always your best defense when it comes to boundary issues. You have the right to secure your boundaries and to protect your ownership and the physical extent of your land. Actively protecting your boundaries safeguards the value of your property, and ensures that you and your family can enjoy your home without interference, intrusion or aggravation from the folks next door.