March 28 2023 |

Abolition of “Squatters Rights” in the Province of Alberta

On December 15, 2022, the Property Rights Statutes Amendment Act, 2022 (the “Act”), received royal assent, thereby effectively abolishing adverse possession claims, also known as “squatters rights”, in the Province of Alberta.

Before the Act was passed, someone that was occupying privately owned land that they were not the registered owner of could claim an ownership right to that land and be added as a registered owner on the Certificate of Title to the land. These people were commonly referred to as “squatters” because their act of “squatting”, or occupying the land, gave them a right to claim an ownership interest through an adverse possession claim.

In particular, as long as a squatter maintained a certain quality of possession of the land for at least ten years, they could have a valid adverse possession claim. For a squatter to succeed in their adverse possession claim, the possession had to have been open and notorious, adverse or without permission, exclusive, not by force, and actual and continuous. If any of the listed elements are missing during the ten year period, then the squatter would lose their right to claim an ownership interest.

Adverse possession claims has its roots in common law tradition, but it was also codified by statute through the Law of Property Act, RSA 2000, c L-7, the Limitations Act, RSA 2000, c L-12, and the Land Titles Act, RSA 2000, c L-4.

There are several rationales for why adverse possession exists. One rationale stems from the historical homesteading process of settling Canada. Homesteading involved the Canadian government selling huge tracts of land at discounted prices because there was a concern that people would not use the land and instead wait for prices to increase so that they could sell the land to someone else at a higher price. Towns and counties were frustrated because they were sparsely populated and wanted homesteading to attract settlers that actually lived on and used the land. Accordingly, adverse possession laws were used to encourage the settlement and use of the land.

An additional rationale for why adverse possession exists is that, at its core, it is simply an application of limitation periods. If there is no action against a trespasser during the statutory time period that a lawsuit is allowed to be filed, which is typically within two years in Alberta, then the registered owner has lost the right to sue the trespasser and remove them from the land. The historical reason for this is that delays in removing a trespasser from the land can hinder defending the claim where witnesses may die or be unable to give evidence, and where documents or important evidence may be lost. However, this rationale is not as applicable in Alberta anymore, as Alberta has a well-functioning land title registration system.

With that said, the Act specifically limits the ability of squatters to become registered owners of land through adverse possession claims by making specific amendments to the Law of Property Act, RSA 2000, c L-7, the Limitations Act, RSA 2000, c L-12, and the Land Titles Act, RSA 2000, c L-4. In particular, the Act makes the following changes to legislation in Alberta:

  • Land Titles Act, RSA 2000, c L-4 – The amendments made to this legislation allows those that have been granted ownership via adverse possession prior to the Act to maintain their ownership. In other words, the Act is proactive and not retroactive.
  • Law of Property Act, RSA 2000, c L-7 – The amendments made to this legislation abolish adverse possession and the right to bring a claim for adverse possession. In addition, the amendments also provide courts with additional powers to make just decisions in property disputes that involve a neighbour encroaching on a piece of privately held land or someone that has made improvements to a piece of privately held land under the false belief that it was their land.
  • Limitations Act, RSA 2000, c L-12 – The amendments made to this legislation remove the ten year limitation period for a registered owner to reclaim possession over property that has been occupied by an adverse possessor. Registered owners are no longer barred due to limitation periods from seeking a court order that grants them possession and ownership of their property.

Accordingly, with the passing of the Act, landowners in Alberta can protect themselves by regaining possession of their land from squatters at any time, and they can seek additional remedies from the court in situations where encroachments on their property are at issue.


Mikala A. Zubrecki, Student-at-Law