Adverse possession, sometimes called “squatter’s rights,” is a surprisingly common phenomenon, especially in rural areas. Many people struggle with the concept of adverse possession because it is counter-intuitive and illogical. At its core, adverse possession amounts to obtaining title by trespassing. For this reason, adverse possession has been referred to as “legalized thievery.”
The historic policy behind adverse possession is that the law should encourage the active, productive use of land. Notably, the intent of the adverse possessor is irrelevant. It does not matter whether the claimant intends to adversely possess (or “steal”) the property. Similarly, it does not matter who has paid the property taxes on the property.
In particular, the issue of adverse possession may be relevant in a boundary line dispute. The issue most commonly occurs when a new purchaser of property has conducted a survey and found that an existing fence line or other landmark is not the actual property line. If the landowners cannot agree on a resolution, the new purchaser may sue for a combination of trespass, ejectment, and quiet title, while the neighbor may sue for adverse possession and quiet title.
An individual claiming adverse possession must show that his or her possession is:
(1) hostile; Hostile means non-permissive.
(2) actual; Actual means that the individual exercises actual, physical possession. In other words, the claimant should act like he or she is the legitimate owner of the property.
(3) open and notorious; Open and notorious means means that the individual cannot “hide” his or her use from the true owner. In short, possession is not secretive. A claimant might establish “open and notorious” by erecting fences, posting signs, and otherwise creating notice of his or her presence on the property.
(4) exclusive; Exclusive means that the individual exercises ownership possession to the exclusion of others, particularly the legitimate owner. In other words, the claimant is the only party acting as the owner of the property.
(5) continuous for a period of ten years. Continuous means constant and uninterrupted. Intermittent or periodic use is not sufficient to establish adverse possession. While possession must be continuous for a period of ten years, an individual may be able to establish adverse possession through the principle of “tacking,” meaning that a former individual’s years of adverse possession can be “tacked” onto the present individual’s years of adverse possession to arrive at the cumulative ten year period of adverse possession.
If you have additional questions about adverse possession, including boundary, fence, and property line disputes, call or come visit the attorneys at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!