Report recommends Alberta scrap ‘squatters’ rights’ legislation

Alberta’s adverse possession law, one of the last remaining pieces of so-called squatters’ rights legislation in Canada, should be abolished, says an agency that provides independent advice to the provincial government.

Adverse possession allows anyone who has occupied a strip of another person’s land for at least 10 years to potentially claim ownership of that land, says a new report by the Alberta Law Reform Institute (ALRI).

The most common scenario involves fences being put up in the wrong place, which can lead to loss of land for the registered owner. 

“We want to bring the law in line with the expectations of people,” said Stella Varvis, legal counsel for ALRI and author of the report.

“The expectation of a person is, ‘I have title to my land. That should give me an entitlement to keep all of my land. No one should be able to come and take away a strip of my land merely because the fence was in the wrong place.'”

Alberta is one of the last places in Canada where adverse possession still exists. In October 2017, ALRI received a request from Alberta Justice to review the legislation and consider how best to abolish it. 

The report, published last month, cites several previous legislative attempts to amend the Land Titles Act.  

In 2018, Richard Gotfried, the MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek, introduced a bill that did not make it past the second reading.

Similarly, Bill 204 was voted down in 2017 because it didn’t strike the right balance between the rights of property owners, industry and the protection of water and land, the report notes.

The report outlines several cases where the law has led to hardship for property owners.

In a 2008 ruling in Calgary’s Court of Queen Bench, a landowner lost about 10 per cent of his lakefront property, Varvis said. 

The strip of land was knowingly occupied by the neighbour. The registered owner wanted to avoid confrontation and by the time he asked the neighbour to move the fence, he had run out of time to reclaim the land. 

Government support

Alberta’s UCP government supports getting rid of adverse possession. 

“Our government is committed to amending the Land Titles Act to bar adverse possession,” Tricia Velthuizen, press secretary for Nate Glubish, minister of Service Alberta, wrote in an email to CBC. “We will review this report as part of our consultations on this matter.”

The ALRI has already consulted with the legal communities in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as the Canadian Bar Association.

Albertans can share their views in an online survey as part of a consultation process that will go until Oct. 1.