In a guideline decision, the Court of Appeal has emphasised that property owners are not required to physically confront their neighbours to prevent the latter obtaining rights over their land and that a polite notice will generally suffice.
Customers and suppliers of a fish and chip shop had for many years parked their vehicles in the car park of an adjoining Conservative club. The club’s steward had occasionally complained about that use and a notice had been installed which stated that the car park was private and for the exclusive use of the club’s patrons.
The club subsequently closed and the car park was acquired by a couple whose tenants blocked it off to vehicles. The fish and chip shop owners complained that they had an established right to use the car park. That was on the basis that they had made uninterrupted use of it, without force, without secrecy and without permission for at least 20 years. Those arguments persuaded the First-tier Tribunal but failed before the Upper Tribunal.
In dismissing the owners’ challenge to the latter decision, the Court of Appeal noted that the facts of the case were commonplace and were of direct interest to millions of property owners. It found that the Conservative club was not required to resort to physical force in order to prevent the owners acquiring parking rights over its land.
The Court stressed that, unless absolutely necessary, the law of property should not require confrontation in order for property owners to retain and defend what is theirs. The Conservative club’s erection and maintenance of the sign was a peaceable and inexpensive means of making clear that the car park was private. In those circumstances, the owners had acquired no parking rights over the land.