Published On: Fri, Mar 11th, 2022

How to obtain land-ownership through prescriptive rights

PHILIPSBURG — There are different ways to become the owner of immovable property, like land or real estate. Civil law attorney Reynold Groeneveldt describes the finer points of this issue in an article with the headline Prescriptive Rights. (See under the Legal Reviews section on our website).

Purchasing immovable property is a sure way to secure ownership, but citizens could also acquire a piece of land through inheritance or donation. Prescriptive rights offer another possibility.

Mr. Groeneveldt emphasizes that a Certificate of Admeasurement from the Cadastre is not proof of ownership. Ownership has to be described in a registered notarial deed or a title search, issued by the Cadastre.

What are prescriptive rights? They refer to a type of easement – the right to use the property of someone else. To acquire ownership through prescriptive rights one must have had the uninterrupted, undisturbed, public and unambiguous possession in good faith for twenty years or more. The civil code speaks of a period of ten years but in most cases the period of twenty years is observed. This was the rule in the old civil code. Whether someone is entitled to ownership under this rule is not determined by the one who wishes to acquire the land, or by its legal owner, but by the court.

Groeneveldt gives the example of someone’s father who bought a parcel of land many years ago but he did not get a notary deed that was registered at the Cadastre. It is also possible that the seller at the time was not legally authorized to do the sale. In those cases one may have possession, provided that one has acted publicly in good faith as if he or she were the owner of the land.

How does one “act publicly in good faith?” For instance by enclosing the land, by building something on it and by maintaining the property, Groeneveldt says. The law states that under such circumstances citizens will become the legal owner after ten years, still under the assumption that the possession of the land was public, uninterrupted and undisturbed.

But the ownership does not materialize out of thin air, even if one meets all the legal requirements. To confirm one’s status requires a decision by the court. The court ruling is the basis for a notary to prepare a transfer deed that then will have to be duly registered at the Cadastre.

Prescriptive rights do not apply to people who are renting a house or who are leasing a parcel of land. One cannot, after having leased a piece of land for ten or twenty years, go to court and claim ownership.

Groeneveldt gives another example of where prescriptive rights apply. Someone takes possession of a parcel of land; it does not matter whether he or she knows who the real owner is. If that someone is not removed from the property and the legal owner has not claimed ownership, the one who took possession of the property can become its legal owner after twenty years.

By law, the legal owner loses his right to remove the occupant of his land after twenty years. The occupant of the land then becomes its legal owner through extinctive prescriptive rights.

This is something that is likely to happen more often than not in St. Maarten in situations when properties remain undivided while its heirs are scattered across the globe. Groeneveldt observes that it is therefore easy to occupy someone else’s land without their knowledge. If the heirs don’t get their act together and take action, they could lose the rights to their property after twenty years.

Going to a notary with two witnesses and declaring that you have occupied a parcel of land for more than twenty years in an attempt to obtain ownership via prescriptive rights is a thing of the past, because it is considered to be in conflict with international laws about the protection of property.

What about the position of the rightful owners of a parcel of land? They can have occupants removed with an eviction order, or have a bailiff deliver a registered letter to occupants they wish to remove. These actions will interrupt the statute of limitations. Once that has happened, a new period of twenty years kicks in.

Here is another option: if someone parents have occupied a parcel of land for, say, fifteen years, they can pass on the right to acquire the land by prescriptive rights to the heirs. They would then have to wait another five years before they can become the legal owners.

Read the complete review article of Mr. R.A. Groeneveldt online here>>>

This article offers a global overview of issues related to (extinctive) prescriptive rights. Citizens who find themselves in a situation whereby they aim to obtain ownership of land are well advised to contact a civil law attorney.


Click here to download a copy of the Prescriptive Rights article>>>

Publishers’ Note: Inspired by this interview of Attorney at Law, Reynold Groeneveldt on the Oral Gibbes Live television show, we contacted Mr. Groeneveldt to write an article for us regarding the legal issues surrounding land ownership on St. Maarten, succession issues and prescriptive rights. The next article will be about succession land.


Oral Gibbes Live interview with Attorney at Law Reynold Groeneveldt