Land possession by mere tolerance can’t supplant owner’s Torrens Title

Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I own 300 square meters of agricultural land covered by a Torrens Title in the province of Aurora. In 1995, I allowed Anton and his family to stay on this land because I pitied them for they had no place to stay. I did not collect any rent from them but we had a verbal agreement that they will vacate the land when I need it.

Last year, I wrote a letter to Anton demanding that they vacate the land because I intend to construct a building on it. Anton refused to do so. Hence, I filed a complaint against him before authorities in the barangay (village) where the property is located. During a meeting at the village hall, Anton claimed that he now owns the property because he has been in possession of the same for more than 20 years. He said if he would be evicted, I must reimburse him the expenses he incurred when he built his house on this property. Is Anton correct?                

Dear Ted,
Anton’s claim that he owns the land just because he possessed it for twenty (20) years has no legal basis. It is important to emphasize that the land is covered by a Torrens Title and Anton’s possession is by mere tolerance; hence, such possession cannot ripen into ownership. Basic is the rule that no title to registered land in derogation of the title of the registered owner shall be acquired by prescription or adverse possession (Section 47, Presidential Decree 1529). In Bishop et al. vs. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 86787, May 8, 1992), the Supreme Court, through former SC Associate Justice Isagani Cruz said:

“As registered owners of the lots in question, the private respondents have a right to eject any person illegally occupying their property. This right is imprescriptible. Even if it be supposed that they were aware of the petitioners’ occupation of the property, and regardless of the length of that possession, the lawful owners have a right to demand the return of their property at any time as long as the possession was unauthorized or merely tolerated, if at all. This right is never barred by laches.

In urging laches against the private respondents for not protesting their long and continuous occupancy of the lots in question, the petitioners are in effect contending that they have acquired the said lots by acquisitive prescription. It is an elementary principle that the owner of a land registered under the Torrens system cannot lose it by prescription.”

Anton is not also entitled to the reimbursement of his expenses in building his house on your land because he is a builder in bad faith. He knew from the very beginning that he did not own the land and his possession was by mere tolerance; hence, he could be evicted anytime. Under Article 449 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines, it is explicitly stated that “he who builds, plants or sows in bad faith on the land of another, loses what is built, planted or sown without a right to indemnity.”

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to


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