From being entitled to the entirety of your property to simply moving your fence line, you should be aware that it is possible for someone to take property from you legally. If you've recently entered into a neighborly dispute or had to deal with trespassers, you may have heard the phrase adverse possession. Adverse possession occurs when someone's use of your land conflicts with your legal ownership of its title.
Adverse Possession Defined
Adverse possession occurs when someone cares for and occupies a land for a substantial amount of time. Eventually, that person becomes the legal owner of the land even though the title may be held by someone else. Adverse possession can be applied to everything from a large lot of land to a few inches around the border of your property. Often, however, this possession must take place over 15 to 20 years.
Adverse Possession Can Be Accidental
A large number of adverse possession cases are accidental. Neighbors may mistakenly believe that their fence is on their property line when it's actually a few inches over. As time passes, they become the true owners of this property, as they have openly owned and maintained this property.
You may not know how much property you truly own if you haven't looked at your own boundary lines. Over time, fences can shift and you may find yourself letting your neighbors encroach into your territory. Though it may seem as though it's something nice to do now, it could actually cause you to have poor legal standing later on.
If your neighbor sells their home, for instance, they may sell the home with that land incorporated. As they have been maintaining that land, they may have the legal right to do this and there may be nothing that you can do.
Adverse Possession Has to Be Hostile
This is an interesting part of adverse possession that can seem unintuitive. In order to have an adverse possession claim, the possession of the property has to be hostile. In other words, it cannot benefit the owner of the land and must actually infringe upon the owner's rights to that land. In the above example, the hostility raised would be that the landowner has been fenced out of their land and that the neighbor is enjoying that land.
On the other hand, if there is an amicable agreement in place for the neighbor to rent the small amount of land they have behind their fence, then it is no longer adverse possession. Having a written agreement in place switches adverse agreement to a more traditional real estate situation. This is why tenants cannot claim adverse possession but trespassers can.
Adverse Possession Has to Be Obvious
It must be obvious to anyone that an individual has begun to care for and inhabit a property. With a fence erected, adverse possession is obvious. However, a neighbor cannot claim adverse possession into your lot because they have begun to mow into your lot.
Similarly, a trespasser cannot sneak into a house and then claim adverse possession after time has passed, even if they have been living there the whole time. They must openly occupy it, making no attempts to hide themselves and doing things such as getting their mail delivered there. As this occurs, the homeowner must fail to take legal action against them for it to become adverse possession.
Adverse possession can be very difficult to deal with. As the clock ticks, the other person's case only grows. If you fear that someone may be attempting to take your land away from you because of adverse possession, it's very important that you get professional help immediately. You can schedule an appointment with William C. Hood, Attorney At Law.