Alberta moves to abolish adverse possession

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (December 15, 2022, 12:41 PM EST) -- Lawmakers have moved to abolish adverse possession in Alberta, fulfilling a platform commitment by the current government and following recommendations from both a legislative committee and a provincial law reform institute.

Adverse possession rules in Alberta long allowed a person who has occupied another person’s land for 10 years to claim ownership of that land. But the Property Rights Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, which passed third reading at the Alberta legislature Dec. 13, abolishes the ability of individuals to make an adverse possession claim and gives private landowners the same protections once only reserved for government, as such claims could only be made against private land. The legislation amends the Law of Property Act, the Land Titles Act and the Limitations Act, and also allows registered property owners to get a court order at any time to regain possession of their property from someone who illegally occupies it.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the changes will save landowners time and money fighting potential claims while providing relief from needing to continually monitor property, so they can use and enjoy what they rightfully own. He noted the Canadian Bill of Rights, which was passed in 1960, protects the “enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law,” but such language did not find its way into the Charter in 1982.

“This means that provinces — which have constitutional authority over property — must step up and defend property rights,” he said. “Alberta is stepping up by introducing a bill to abolish adverse possession and restore the rights of Alberta’s property owners.”

Alberta Law Reform Institute counsel Stella Varvis

Alberta Law Reform Institute counsel Stella Varvis

There has been pressure for several years now on the province to deal with concerns about adverse possession. The Alberta Law Reform Institute (ALRI) published a report recommending its abolition in April 2020, a message which was echoed by a special legislative committee earlier this year.

ALRI counsel Stella Varvis said she was pleased most of the institute’s recommendations were incorporated into the bill.

“This is a recognition of the value that landowners put on ownership and the protection of their property,” she said. “I think the situation that landowners tended to be the most concerned about was the idea that somebody could intentionally occupy your land without your permission and then make a claim to ownership over it — so the fact the changes get rid of that situation is a positive move and reassuring for landowners in Alberta.”

Although adverse possession is commonly referred to as “squatter’s rights,” Varvis said it is a very specific legal doctrine and squatter’s rights tends to be used much more broadly, such as when a person has rented a property and refuses to leave.

“There is a different set of legal rules that would apply to that, so I tend to refrain from referring to squatter’s rights because I do think it does get confused with other types of scenarios,” she said.

The legislation will come into effect upon receiving royal assent.

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