Cuius est solum

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By Abby Hewitt

Conveyancing Executive (MCILEx)

Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos – “whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell”

According to the Law of Property Act 1925, ‘land’ includes the actual land, any buildings that may be on it, together with fixtures, minerals, mines and the airspace surrounding it.  In reality, how far up into the air and down into the ground does a landowner actually own?

Intrusion into the immediate airspace above your property would be a trespass, such as in Kelsen v Imperial Tobacco (1957) where an advertising sign projected over the property. But where does this end? There is a point where the airspace above your property becomes the “upper stratum” and it is not possible to have ownership of this. The point where this changes cannot be measured exactly, but it is generally understood that the lower stratum extends to the height necessary for the ordinary use of the land. Of course, an airline cannot be sued for trespass for flying over someone’s land, as this would make flight paths impossible! This is a statutory principle found in s76 Civil Aviation Act 1982.

Similarly, there are limitations to the ownership of the earth beneath your property. It is generally accepted that the landowner is entitled to the subterranean area below the surface of the land, but they are not necessarily entitled to the mines and minerals under their property. In some cases, the title may show these as exempt, which means that they belong to someone else. In any case, all mines of gold, silver, treasure and oil belong to The Crown by law, and coal belongs to the Coal Authority.

The Latin maxim is limited in today’s society, as ownership of the ground or the air cannot extend indefinitely. There is no express law stating an exact cut off point in either direction, but rather an application of necessity and reasonableness.