Adverse possession is a legal term used to describe how an occupant can gain legal title over property owned by someone else. In theory, a trespasser could enter the property uninvited, like it, and decide to move in. They may have made improvements to the land, making it more livable or productive. If this goes on long enough, asking them to leave a property they cared for could be a hardship.
It could be a squatter in an abandoned building on an isolated or forgotten parcel of land. Still, it is more typical that a neighbor intentionally or unintentionally uses the land they don’t own, treating it as their own. They may have even bought the property, thinking the disputed property was part of the purchase. They may then build new structures or cultivate the land, not realizing it is all or partially on someone else’s property.
Conditions for adverse possession
While there are also other issues to consider with adverse possession, the occupant must satisfy four primary conditions for adverse possession:
- They must enter the property without permission.
- They openly occupy the land treating it as their own (which includes paying property taxes).
- They use the land in an obvious way.
- They use the land continuously without sharing.
The legal landowner with the correct title has 21 years (10 years for single-family homes) to challenge the occupancy. Government property is immune to this rule. In all cases, the burden of proof lies with the trespasser.
Landowners need to take this issue seriously
Land disputes are common. It may be a fence that doesn’t accurately reflect the property line, or it can be a shifting creek bed caused by damming or erosion. It could be a misunderstanding or a mistake. Whatever the cause, both neighbors often adamantly feel they are in the right. This dispute leads to legal battles that the courts may have to address. A lawyer can advise you of your rights. Call us if you have any questions and want to have your specific circumstances evaluated.