In early April 2023, around 300 squatters occupied private land in Naivasha. The squatters settled in farms, damaging property in Ndabibi, Kosovo, and Moindabi. They tilled the land and vowed not to leave, claiming that it’s unfair for individuals to own large tracts of land while they have none.
The land was previously occupied by them from 2003-2007, but the government evicted them, saying that the land had an owner, of whom the squatters were unaware. They returned but were evicted again. The squatters asked the government to deal with land cartels as promised. However, they had no proof of ownership of their land parcels.
Later in April 2023, squatters occupied 800 acres in Kadzinuni, Kilifi County. In this instance, local citizens are frustrated by the foreign private investors who plan to use the land. Police have been forced to camp in the area and prevent further damage. The locals want government intervention in the ownership of the land.
What leads to adverse possession?
The law states that squatters can legally take ownership of land if they have continuously lived there for twelve years. The Law of Limitations Act gives squatters the right to claim land ownership if the current owner leaves it unoccupied or unused, and it can be difficult to reclaim your land. This is known as adverse possession. You, therefore, can’t evict a squatter if they have been using or living on your land for 12 straight years.
In turn, the courts grant adverse possessors ownership if they can prove that they entered the property without legal rights or titles. They must also prove that the owner was unaware they entered the land without legal title. Ignorance of the law isn’t protection against adverse possession.
Landowners should also ensure they serve eviction notices before 12 years lapse. This makes it easier to remove squatters through court action. After twelve years, the law states that squatters can legally apply to become owners of the land through the High Court.
Absentee owners who can leave their land unoccupied because they live elsewhere and haven’t assigned someone else to take care of the land can find themselves in this situation. Buying land unseen can also lead to possessing land where you are unaware of squatters already occupying the area.
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How can landowners protect their land from squatters?
If you have acquired land that you don’t yet plan to use, some basic measures you can take to safeguard your property are:
- Get an independent property manager. They will ensure that the land remains safe and unused. This also prevents people from using the land for cultural rites like burials.
- Deter squatters by properly fencing the area and creating a temporary structure to show usage.
- Use the land for temporary commercial activity. This can be something that is low-impact and doesn’t require you to be actively hands-on.
- Pay government levies and taxes on the land on time to show the courts that you have maintained property ownership.
- You can join a cooperative union or chama and aggregate your land with their properties. This helps you scale up any potential profit-making activities.
- You can lease your land to others and generate a profit until you are ready to use the land yourself. Many farmers make use of leased land to grow commercial produce.
If adverse possessors have already occupied your land, get a lawyer to draft you an eviction notice so you can have it in writing. You can also report trespassers to the police or the local chief’s office.
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