Adverse Possession Laws

Adverse possession laws, often colloquially referred to as “squatter’s rights,” are a complex area of property law that can have significant implications for landowners and occupants alike. This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of these laws, their requirements, and their potential impacts.

What is Adverse Possession?

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a trespasser to claim ownership rights of a piece of real estate, provided they meet certain requirements over a specified period of time. This period is determined by the state’s statute of limitations. The doctrine is based on the principle that land should be productive, and if a landowner is absent or oblivious, the person using the land (and meeting all criteria) should have the legal right to own it[1].

What are the Elements of Adverse Possession?

For a trespasser to claim adverse possession, they must meet certain criteria. These include:

  • Open: The trespasser’s possession of the property must be visible and obvious.
  • Notorious: The trespasser’s use of the property must be well-known within the community.
  • Hostile: The trespasser’s use of the property must infringe on the owner’s rights, without permission.
  • Actual: The trespasser must actually be living on or using the land.
  • Exclusive: The trespasser must have exclusive possession of the property, acting as if they are the actual owners.
  • Continuous: The trespasser must maintain continuous possession of the property during the state’s statutory period.

These requirements can vary by state, with some states requiring the trespasser to be current on property taxes and others mandating different lengths for the statutory period[2].

What Happens if the Trespasser Proves Their Claim?

If a trespasser successfully makes an adverse possession claim, property rights legally transfer to them. The adverse possessor will own the property’s legal title and can use or dispose of it as they choose.

How Does Adverse Possession Relate to Easements?

Adverse possession and easements are both legal ways to gain access to someone else’s land, but they differ in the extent of use. A prescriptive easement occurs when a trespasser meets the criteria for open and notorious use of the property, but they do not need to possess it. They simply need to use the property.

How Can Adverse Possession Be Prevented?

To prevent a claim of right through adverse possession, property owners can take precautions such as clearly marking boundary lines, checking for signs of trespassing, installing “No Trespassing” signs, and building fences or gates.

What are the Consequences of Adverse Possession?

If a trespasser successfully claims adverse possession, the original owner loses their property rights. This can have significant financial and emotional impacts. Therefore, it is crucial for property owners to be vigilant about their property and take steps to prevent adverse possession.

Are There Exceptions to Adverse Possession Laws?

Yes, there are exceptions to adverse possession laws. For example, some courts have ruled that adverse possession between family members won’t be successful because of implied consent. Also, homeowners associations may restrict an owner’s right to sue their neighbor, potentially preventing an adverse possession claim.

What is the Opposite of Adverse Possession?

The opposite of adverse possession would be rightful possession, where the legal owner of a property maintains their ownership rights without any dispute or challenge. In this case, the owner exercises their rights to use, control, and dispose of their property without interference from trespassers or squatters.