Private member’s bill seeks to end squatters’ rights in Alta.

Bill 204 would also amend the stewardship act, restoring landowners’ rights to compensation for decisions affecting their land

Squatters’ rights, more formally known as adverse possession, may be stricken from Alberta property law if a private member’s bill passes in the provincial legislature.

Adverse possession allows a person to claim ownership of land if he or she has been in open possession of it for10 years or more without having a valid agreement with the landowner.

Pat Stier, Wildrose MLA for Livingstone Macleod, recently introduced Bill 204, which would eliminate squatters’ rights and amend other property rights statutes that caused considerable rural landowner controversy when Ed Stelmach was premier.

“I think this is absolutely ridiculous,” said Stier about Alberta law allowing adverse possession.

In February, he introduced a similar bill, Bill 210, seeking property rights amendments but it died on the order paper when the session ended.

His new bill is “basically 210 with the addition of squatters’ rights.”

In a column provided to media, Stier described current legislation on the matter as archaic.

“It’s high time we caught up to the rest of the country and abolished squatters’ rights in this province,” wrote Stier. “Landowners and Wildrose have known this for years. But where will the NDP fall when push comes to shove? That re-mains to be seen.”

Stier said in an interview that NDP MLAs supported changes to property rights legislation when they were still the opposition, and in February the NDP government supported his previous motion in the resource stewardship committee of the legislature.

He said that gives him confidence that his bill will be passed. However, in his written column, Stier indicated less faith.

“Now that they’re in power, though, the NDP has been coy about taking real steps to fix property rights in our province.”

Adverse possession is seldom used in property rights cases but it garnered attention in 2014 when a rancher near Cardston, Alta., lost a 10-acre parcel to neighbours who had been using it.

Douglas Carle, the lawyer who represented the rancher, said at the time that squatters’ rights should be relegated to the legal dustbin.

“I think that it is actually quite puzzling that a jurisdiction such as ours … would even have a concept of adverse possession,” said Carle.

“It’s an archaic concept that causes nothing but hardship and flies in the face of our entire land titles system.”

In fact, Alberta’s property rights advocate recommended in 2014 that the law be stricken from the books.

“The real problem with adverse possession, even once you get beyond the civil dispute between two private parties, is that it kind of affects the integrity of the land titles system because it allows … the title to be compromised and land to be hived off from the title without any notice of registration on the document,” said former property rights advocate Lee Cutforth.

Though squatters’ rights seems to generate the most angst from landowners, Stier’s bill proposes amendments to several other acts pertaining to property rights.

Among them is the Alberta Land Stewardship Act.

Stier’s Bill 204 would restore the right of landowners to participate in hearings and the right to compensation if they believe their property and rights would be affected by regional planning decisions.

As well, the bill would amend the Energy Resources Conservation Act so private landowners would be “properly notified of access requests and be provided with a mechanism to have their concerns addressed.”

“This has been a long time coming,” said Stier. “A lot of people have spoken out.”

Wildrose members have provided background information on the property rights issue to NDP MLAs, added Stier, because “with the new government I’m sure there’s probably not a lot of the members from the urban centres that are very familiar with some of the issues to do with Bill 36.”

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