House owner fails in bid to lay claim to adjacent land after making argument on growth of rambutan tree roots

SINGAPORE – A house owner who went to court, claiming a strip of land next to his University Road property belonged to him because the roots of his rambutan trees had extended into the neighbouring plot, has lost his case.

The plot of land in contention – a narrow strip of about 64.5 sqm without any structures on it – is owned by property investment firm Yat Yuen Hong Company.

Mr Koh Ah Kin argued that he had acquired the neighbouring land through adverse possession, a law which allowed a person to lay claim on a plot of land if he had occupied it for 12 years without the owner’s permission.

This law was abolished on March 1, 1994, which meant Mr Koh had to prove he was in possession of the neighbouring land before March 1, 1982, at least 12 years before the law was changed.

To support his case, Mr Koh engaged an arborist to give expert evidence, in an attempt to show that rambutan trees he planted in 1980 are the same trees that have grown roots into the adjacent plot.

His arguments were thrown out on Wednesday (Nov 18) by High Court Judge Lee Seiu Kin, who said Mr Koh has failed to show the trees were planted before March 1, 1982.

In any event, Justice Lee said, the trees were on Mr Koh’s property and not within the strip of land.

“I cannot see how the fact that a tree, planted by the plaintiff within his property, and having some of its roots growing into the defendant’s land, can constitute adverse possession,” the judge added.

Mr Koh, who bought his house in 1979, filed his claim this year.

Yat Yuen Hong Company filed a counterclaim, demanding that Mr Koh remove the fences and walls that he had built around the strip of land.

Mr Koh relied on two points to argue that he has been in possession of the land for at least 12 years.

He alleged that in early 1980, he removed two existing fences on the strip of land and built a retaining wall and a new fence. He claimed he had also filled up the strip of land with soil and flattened it.

He produced photographs, one dated January 1984 and two taken more recently, to show the new fence.

Mr Koh also argued that the rambutan trees he had planted on his property around the same time as the construction works, are the same trees on site today.

He submitted photos of the trees, from 1984 and present-day, and called expert evidence to compare branch architecture and the tree form from both sets of photographs.

The company also engaged its own arborist to counter Mr Koh’s expert.

Justice Lee said that in his judgment the photographs of the fences did not help Mr Koh’s case, as the fences in the two sets of photographs are different from one another.

The judge also saidMr Koh was unable to produce documentary proof of the construction works.

He further added that Mr Koh has failed to show he had built the new fence or planted the trees before March 1, 1982 and has, therefore, failed to prove he was in possession of the strip of land for 12 years.

The judge found Yat Yuen Hong Company remains its owner and ordered Mr Koh to remove the fences and walls surrounding the plot.

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