Farmer in battle for land with developer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am

The son of a man who lived and farmed on a 1.24-hectare plot of land in Sai Kung without paying rent for over 25 years is citing squatters' rights to try to claim the land back from a company who bought it for HK$42 million.

According to a High Court writ issued on Tuesday, transactions placing the land near Sha Kok Mei village in the hands of three different property developers successively since 1992 may have been illegal, because the villagers who initially sold the land to the firms had given up their claim to it inadvertently to the father of Yeung Wai-fan, who had farmed the land since the early 1960s.

Yeung claims to have acquired squatters' rights, or adverse possession of the land, citing the fact that he and his father had been using it exclusively for more than 25 years.

It is one of several recent cases in which people have tried to claim ownership of land citing the principle of adverse possession.

Under the principle, if a private property is not used by its owner, and if another person has used it for at least 12 years, the other person can claim ownership.

In 1992, villagers from the indigenous Li family sold 26 small parcels of their ancestral farm land to a firm called Gainfast Development for HK$6.18 million, the documents state. A year later, it was sold on for HK$7.68 million to another firm, Sun Link Properties. Then, in the spring of 1997, Honiton International paid HK$42.66 million for the land.

Yeung says his father had farmed the land since the mid-1960s until his death in early 1996 and had stopped paying rent, as nobody had collected it from him.

Yeung came to Hong Kong from the mainland in 1977 to join his father, and has continued to farm the land since his father's death in 1996.

His wife gave birth to a daughter there in 1983, and together they used the land exclusively for the family of three, he says.

Honiton now has about two weeks to state whether it intends to contest Yeung's claim.