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Who is the rightful owner of the land?

Who is the rightful owner of the land?

Dear Mirror Lawyer, I live in Ashaley Botwe a suburb of Accra with my two little children.

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We moved here onto a piece of land in 2005 after their father had passed, and we were kicked out of the family house by his family members, who alleged that the children were not his and we had no place in the family home.

We didn’t have money, so when we moved to the land, all I could afford was some wood boards, which I used to construct a makeshift structure for our shelter.

I started selling food and over time, I built a small two-bed concrete structure where I currently live with the children.

About two months ago, I was approached by a man who came onto the land and claimed to be the landowner. He said he bought the land in 1999 but could not afford to develop it, so he abandoned it.

I have never seen him in all the time I’ve been here. He claims he is now ready to build on the land and has demanded that I leave the land with my children, or he will call the police to force me off the land. I have nowhere else to relocate to. What can I do?

Asantewaa Manu, 
Ashaley Botwe, Accra.

Dear Asantewaa, Sorry to hear about your predicament. I can understand your anxiety and will advise you on the best legal remedy available to you.

The law enjoins every citizen to take timely and reasonable measures to protect his land and other property from trespassers and encroachment by others.

Therefore, the moment you see some other person on your land, you are to take reasonable steps to get the person off your land, and where the person fails, your recourse would be to take legal action against the person.

The law will not side with an owner of land who goes to sleep or deliberately keeps quiet and encourages another person with a wrongful belief that the land belongs to him to develop the land for an unreasonable period before intervening to recover the land from the trespasser.

The legal maxim for that is ‘equity aids the vigilant and not the indolent. The current position of the law is captured in the Limitation Act of 1972 NRCD 54.

Section 10 provides that no action shall be brought to recover any landed property such as a house or vacant land after the expiration of 12 years from the date the right of action accrued to the person bringing it.

This implies that the moment you entered the land without the permission of the actual owner and started using the land, adverse to his interest, time started counting for him to inspect his land and ward you off the land. From the facts, you entered the land in 2005 and started living on the land.

 The actual owner of the land had 12 years from 2005 to drive you away from the land or to take you to court for an order of ejection and recovery of possession. The 12 years expired in 2017.

It is a policy of the Limitation Acts that the courts should not assist those who go to sleep upon their claims in recovering their property. The policy behind these acts is that there shall be an end to litigation.

The man claiming to be the landowner is expected by law to know about your presence on his land.

From 2005 to 2024, approximately nineteen years (19) have passed since you entered into possession of the land.

Your possession has been open without authorisation from the man who claims to own the land in question and exercised rights adverse to his interest. 

Accordingly, the man who claims to own the land in question has slept on his rights. He cannot lay a successful claim to the land as his right over the land has been long extinguished.

So, the demand from the man who claims to own the land in question that you should vacate the land cannot be supported by law and he will lose should he take you to court. The land now belongs to you.

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Because of your financial status, it will be difficult for you to engage the services of a private lawyer to protect your interests.

I would, therefore, advise you to apply to the Legal Aid Commission to seek out legal representation for you and enforce your right to possession in court. All the best.

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