Objects found on my land

A Finders title

Have you ever found something on your land that is not your property? A lost watch, money or even an item of clothing? There are many situations where maybe the true owner of that item is not known or unable to locate, and where this occurs other people may have a claim to that property.

There are many people who may be entitled to claim objects found in or on the surface of the land, these include, The True owner of the object, The Finder of the object, A person in occupation of the land ( living on the land), A person with a superior right to the land (I.e. Landlord) or the Finder’s employer.

Note that the true owner of the object has a better claim over the found property than anybody else, as seen in the case of Moffatt V Kazana 1969

If the true owner of the object cannot be found then the question of who has the strongest claim the object depends on where the property was found.

Objects found in or attached to the land

If the true owner of the property discovered is unidentifiable or unable to be found then the person In lawful possession of the land is entitled to the item that was found in the land or attached to it. This is even the case where the landowner was unaware of the object before it was found and never showed any intention to control the land .

The courts stated in Waverley BC v Fletcher 1996, the three reasons why items found below the surface of the land should be treated differently from those found on the property.

  • Firstly, An object in land should be treated as an integral part of that land against all but the true owner so if the finder of the item is to remove it from the land they would be doing so without a license or permission and therefore become a trespasser.

  • Secondly, Removal of an object in or attached to land would normally involve interference with the land and may damage it.

  • Finally, it is unlikely that the true owner of the object in the ground would be there to claim the property, where as if the item was found on the soil it is likely to have been recently lost and possible the true owner may return to find it.

Examples of items found that have undertaken court proceedings in the past include;
  • Rings found in mud at the bottom of a pool (seen in the case of South Staffordshire Water Co v Sharman [1896]), A prehistoric boat found 6 feet beneath the surface (noted in Elwes v Brigg Gas Company (1886) ) and A gold brooch found 9 inches underneath the surface of a public park (basis of the case of Waverley BC v Fletcher [1996])

Items found on top of the land itself

The finder of property generally has the right to any object which has been lost. A right which is enforceable against everyone except for the true owner of the property.

The owner of the land where the object was found will only take priority over the finder where the landowner had expressed his intention to control the land and anything found on it prior to the discovery of the lost property.  

The courts in the case of Parker explained that if the true owner where ever to come forward he/she would have the overall best claim to the lost property. The judge stated the following principles.

The finder of a lost object will have no rights over it unless it has been abandoned or lost and then taken into the control of the person who found it. However, the finder of the lost object will have very limited rights over the property if he/she takes control of the object with dishonest intention or whilst trespassing on the land.  

The finder of the lost property does not have any absolute ownership over the objects but does gain the right to keep it against all people other than the true owner or person claiming through the true owner or someone who can prove prior right to the lost property.

Unless previously agreed, the person who finds the lost property during his employment on the land and then takes into his care and control does on behalf on his employer who then gains the finders rights and excludes the rights of the actual finder.

The person who has the finders rights has an obligation to take all reasonable steps in the given circumstances to find the true owner and their and state the current whereabouts of the item and care for it in the meantime.

The occupier of the land has more rights than those of a finder over any items found in or attached to that land. 

An occupier of a building has more rights than the finder of any lost property found upon or in the building but not those found attached to it, only If before the object was found his intention was made clear that he was to exercise control over the building and the things which may be upon or in the building.

Note that a  distinction is to be  drawn between situations when the object is found by a person who is on the land lawfully and where it is found by a trespasser.  If the finder is a trespasser, or has a dishonest intention, then the occupier of the land (and, of course, the true owner of the object) will have a better claim ,Otherwise, the fact of possession confers on the finder a possessory  title which is good against other  

The Treasures Act 199

Objects found on my land 

An object which falls within the statutory definition of treasure belongs to the Crown.  The Treasure Act 1996 applies to items of gold or silver with a 10% content of precious metal provided that they are at least 300 years old.