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14 March 20232 minute read

Abolishing squatter's right in Alberta

In late 2022, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta gave royal assent to Bill 3, the Property Rights Statutes Amendment Act, 2022 (S.A. 2022, c 23) (the “Act”). This Act introduced long sought amendments to the Law of Property Act, Land Titles Act, and Limitations Act with the primary purpose of abolishing provincial adverse possession laws, more commonly known as “squatter’s rights”. After previous attempts in 2012, 2018 and 2020 to pass comparable legislation, the Act received royal assent on December 15, 2022, and has now become law across Alberta.

Prior to the amendments, the doctrine of adverse possession allowed a person to make a claim to title to privately held land from the registered owner if that person had occupied the land for a period of at least ten years. The historical rationale was to maximize the economic value of the land by favouring active users over claims of absentee owners. Regardless of the underlying intent, adverse possession rules represented a source of concern for landowners that their land might be lost to trespassers trying to establish a legal interest. Even though a number of recent cases had upheld the doctrine (in favour of the trespassers), the correct application of the doctrine in Alberta was never clear in the context of indefeasible title in the Torrens system and the need for municipal government approvals to subdivide land. Shifting public sentiment in addition to recommendations from the Alberta Law Reform Institute and Special Committee on Real Property Rights seemingly provided the final push to explicitly discard the doctrine.

From now on, registered owners are no longer at risk of losing title to real property even if it is continuously occupied by another person. Actions commenced prior to the coming into force of the Act may continue and are not subject to the ‎abolition of adverse possession, but no new actions may be commenced.‎ The introduction of the Act brings the province of Alberta in line with other jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and the Yukon.