All Woman

Issues with access to family lands

Margarette MACAULAY

Monday, April 22, 2019

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Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I am writing to you on behalf of my family in rural Manchester regarding lands that my family members have been farming on for over 20 years.

Our great, great grand-uncle, who resided in England, died intestate and had another family member (a cousin of ours) looking over the land as an agent. The problem is that my brothers have been farming on this piece of property for more than 20 years and only recently found out that the “agent” has been selling off the land to other parties without giving us first right of refusal or any notice to vacate the property. As you will appreciate, farm produce cannot be taken up and just replanted and hence we are in a bind as to what will happen next as we have no idea who the purchasers are.

Can you advise us of our options legally, and whether the fact that we have been on the land for over two decades, we have any rights under the law especially since we are not sure if the “agent” or anyone else has been paying the property taxes.

I must start my response by asking questions — are you certain that this person selling portions of the land was and is really a duly appointed agent of the owner? Has the land been surveyed and subdivided by this agent?

I ask the first question because upon the death of the owner, his agent's agency would have come to an end and could only continue if the administrator of the estate appointed him as the agent of the land after the grant of Letters or Administration. You have made no mention of any such application having been made. The question of this person's status is wide open and could be challenged by you and your family by way of an application to the court for declarations that he is an interloper and has no right to make any decisions about and affecting the lands. He will have to prove his appointment as agent, and that it is still continuing. You must also ask for declarations that all his actions/sales and otherwise are illegal and null and void and for consequential orders pursuant to the declarations.

In addition, if he did not legally subdivide the land and has been selling portions willy-nilly, he cannot pass a legal title to any purchasers. Subdivision must be obtained before a sale agreement is made. You can attend and do a search at the Titles Office and Survey Department for the land and see what is the position on the records there.

Your family is entitled to apply for adverse title due to your possession and occupation of the lands you have been farming for the period you state, which exceeds the required 12 years. I assume by saying this that your family's possession has never been objected to in the 20 plus years and that you paid no rent.

If my assumption is correct, then you should consider making your application for adverse title to the land occupied by you all. But you must also seek proof of and challenge the status of this “agent”. It would not be the first time that a so-called agent has assumed right over lands without any legal authority.

I would therefore advise you to retain the services of an attorney-at-law NOW.

Do not wait any longer and waste any more time. You see, your application for an adverse title could have been made after 12 years' occupation and possession expired. The bits of facts you have given in your letter are not enough for me to give you a full opinion, but they are sufficient for me to deduce that your family may well have a successful claim and may be able to stop illegal/fraudulent actions by a person who is not a duly appointed agent or whose agency expired years ago.

You need to see a lawyer and give a full account, answer questions to fill in gaps, and receive a full legal opinion and advice. Take action to protect your family's work over so many years. You all must act now and protect your interests. Do not let inaction cause you all to lose out on your family lands.

I take this opportunity to wish all my readers and their families a truly holy and happy Easter, and the same to my editor and all the staff at the Jamaica Observer Limited and their families, and also to my friends and family. God's blessings to you all, always.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.

DISCLAIMER:

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.


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