Adverse possession is a legal term that refers to someone taking possession of land or a building that they do not have the legal title for. If this goes on long enough, they take adverse possession of the property, which means they legally own it.
The trespasser can be a squatter in a neglected building or on an isolated piece of land. Still, often it is the owner of a neighboring piece of property who intentionally takes or mistakenly assumes the property is theirs. They may have even bought the parcel with the understanding that they get the land. They may build driveways, fences, or structures wholly or partially on land they do not legally own. Unless the owner contests this infringement, the possessor assumes ownership.
Requirement for adverse possession
The burden of proof lies with the occupier or trespasser. They must meet the following criteria:
- They enter or use the property without the owner’s permission.
- They must live on the property and present themselves as the owner.
- They must exclusively use the property in an obvious way, such as using it as a residence, mowing the lawn or farming.
- They must occupy the land for 21 years (10 years if the property is less than a half-acre with a single-family dwelling).
- They pay taxes on the property.
Not a small matter
Whether it is a neighbor annexing the property or someone taking over an abandoned piece of land, owners who do not take the issue of adverse possession seriously can lose their property. Some may worry about causing disputes with neighbors or other issues but ignoring the problem can mean that the property will go away.