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Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Legislative committee recommends abolishing 'archaic' squatters' rights law
The motion gained all-party backing with enthusiastic support from opposition MLAs and cautious agreement from members on the government side.
The motion’s success brought a round of applause from Wildrose MLA Don MacIntyre, who proposed it at the resource stewardship committee meeting at the Federal Building on Tuesday.
Adverse possession — often referred to as squatters’ rights — happens when someone occupies the land of another person. It can be accidental, with a misplaced fence line or building, or someone purposely occupying vacant land. “The key is the occupier possessing the land for long enough — typically 10 years,” reads a report from the Miller Thomson law firm. In an interview after the motion passed, MacIntyre said scrapping the law would ease the minds of Alberta landowners.
“It means landowners will actually have the right to their land and they will be able to do something positive if there are people squatting on their land,” said MacIntyre. He said the big question now is how the government decides to draft the legislation. “What (the bill) actually looks like when it comes out of the mill is anyone’s guess. So this is only step one,” he said.
The law has long been in the crosshairs, with the Alberta property rights advocate recommending it be scrapped in 2014. Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces with such a law still on the books. The resource stewardship committee requested a review of the law by Alberta Justice in early 2016; it never got underway. Government MLAs initially worried that abolishing the law would leave a land rights void or a loophole that could be exploited. MacIntyre tried to allay their concerns, saying the motion only recommends that the legislature work on a bill. That bill can be brought back to the committee for consultations and tweaking and any holes can be filled before the legislation is passed, he said. After about an hour of debate, MLAs were unanimously in favour of the recommendation. Across the board, opposition MLAs argued the law was a relic of a different time in Alberta’s history, when its citizens were more transient.
“It’s an old law that’s crazy and should be abolished,” said Progressive Conservative MLA Wayne Drysdale, in the most succinct version of an argument that was repeated several times. Several MLAs referred to the law as “archaic.” The adverse possession law has only been used 23 times in the last 27 years, but it has been the focus of some high-profile cases. In 1999, a woman was told to leave her shack on a southern Alberta ranch that was owned by multimillionaire brothers Maurice and Harold King. Tysanna Robertson had argued she was entitled to live in the home permanently through adverse possession. She said the brothers took her in after she fled an abusive relationship and she had been allowed to live and graze her horses on the pastures without paying rent.
The court ruled that she was simply living there thanks to the generosity of the King brothers and because she wasn’t mentioned in either of their wills, she had to leave.