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Adverse Possession: Legal Definition and Requirements

Adverse Possession: Legal Definition and Requirements File Photo Adverse Possession: Legal Definition and Requirements File Photo
Adverse Possession: Legal Definition and Requirements File Photo Adverse Possession: Legal Definition and Requirements File Photo

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Adverse Possession: What Is It?

The legal doctrine known as “adverse possession” gives title to someone who resides on or has another person’s property as long as a few requirements are satisfied, such as whether they violate the true owner’s rights and whether they have had continuous possession of the property, the possessor is granted title to the property. Adverse possession is frequently called squatter’s rights, but this term refers to the concept rather than formal legislation.

Knowledge of Adverse Possession

As was already mentioned, the legal position known as “adverse possession” is when one party gains title to another person’s property by taking possession of it. This may occur with or without the property owner’s knowledge, purposefully or accidentally.

In circumstances of deliberate adverse possession, a trespasser or squatter—someone who unlawfully occupies another person’s property—knowingly enters that property to occupy it and live there. Adverse possession may occur unintentionally in other situations. As an illustration, a homeowner might fence off their yard without realizing they’ve crossed the property boundary and encroached on their neighbor’s space. The adverse possessor, the disseisor, may assert property ownership in either situation. Additionally, the claimant is not compelled to pay the land’s owner if they successfully establish adverse possession.

Conditions to Establish Adverse Possession

The standards for establishing adverse possession tend to change depending on the jurisdiction. In many states, the deed and proof of tax payment on a property are generally necessary for the claimant to succeed. The duration of time during which the landowner of record may at any point invalidate the claim varies by state. For instance, the claimant will find it challenging to establish adverse possession if the state threshold is 20 years and the landlord paints or pays for other maintenance on the home in question in the 19th year. Nevertheless, landowners should end the danger of adverse possession as soon as possible by signing contracts for any use of their property.

To effectively assert an adverse possession claim, the claimant must show that the conditions for their land occupation are met.

  • Continuous use: To satisfy this requirement, the hostile possessor must demonstrate that they have had continuous, uninterrupted possession of the subject property.
  • A hostile and unfavorable property occupancy requires proof that there is no existing agreement or license from the landowner, such as a signed easement, lease, or rent agreement, even though it doesn’t entail the used force to seize the land.
  • Open and infamous occupancy: The party claiming adverse possession must occupy a property in an infamous, outward, and plain way. However, the genuine owner doesn’t need to know the occupation.
  • Actual possession: The possessor must actively possess the property for the stipulated statutory time, which may range from three to thirty years.
  • According to state law, possession may entail paying taxes and keeping the land in good condition.
  • Exclusive usage: The property is utilized by the disseisor alone, and no other person is permitted to use it.

How to Avoid Negative Possession

  • By taking a few simple steps, a landowner can stop a trespasser from acquiring property ownership:
  • Determine and mark the boundaries of your property. Check your property frequently for trespasser evidence. Use “no trespassing” signs and secure access with gates, if necessary. Although a “no trespassing” sign won’t be adequate to thwart an adverse possession claim in many places, it’s an excellent method to discourage trespassers.
  • Make the trespasser an offer to rent the property. The trespasser cannot assert adverse possession while a valid rental agreement exists.
  • Give someone written consent to use your property, and make sure you receive their written acknowledgment.
  • Be quick. To successfully prosecute trespassers, you must act before they have been on your property for the amount of time specified by your jurisdiction.

Comparing homesteading and illegal possession

In practice, adverse possession is akin to homesteading. Government-owned land or property without a known owner is given to new owners as long as they use and improve it in homesteading. A homesteader risks losing their land if they don’t use it. Adverse possession can achieve similar results, which makes untitled land available for beneficial use.

Adverse possession can, of course, also be used abusively in ways that homesteading cannot. Suppose there isn’t a documented easement agreement. In that case, the farmer employing an informal easement—one farmer’s fence containing an acre of the neighbors’ land—can claim adverse possession to take that piece of land practically.

What Constitutes Adverse Possession’s Five Conditions?
The following are the common conditions that must be followed, even though the requirements for adverse possession may differ greatly in different jurisdictions:

  • The item must be continuously and unbrokenly in your possession.
  • The occupancy must be hostile, adverse to the interests of the real owner, and unapproved by them.
  • A property must be occupied by the party seeking adverse possession in an open, well-known, and evident way.
  • For the state’s designated statutory period, which can range from three to 30 years, possession of the property must continue.
  • The party seeking adverse possession must be the only tenant of the property.

Which States Permit Negative Possession?
Even while adverse possession is permitted across the board, each state has its own unique set of rules. The key distinctions are the duration of possession, the payment of taxes, and the presence of a document (such as a deed) that purports to prove ownership. States in the East typically do not demand additional paperwork, but they could ask for the payment of property taxes. States in the West typically permit shorter periods of ownership but impose extra conditions such as paying taxes or recording a deed1.

How long is adverse possession allowed?
Depending on the jurisdiction, the time frame can range from three years (Arizona) to thirty years (Louisiana).1 The time requirement is typically 10–12 years.

Who May Make an Adverse Possession Claim?
If certain conditions are satisfied, such as being in possession for a certain amount of time or paying taxes on the property, any individual possessing land owned by someone else may claim adverse possession and get a valid title. Each jurisdiction has its requirements.


  • A non-owner occupier of a plot of land might acquire title and ownership through the legal process known as adverse possession after a predetermined amount of time.
  • Before the court will accept the claim, the claimant, or disseisor, must show that several requirements have been met.
  • Continuous use, a takeover of the land, and exclusive use are a few examples of requirements.
  • The law, also called squatters’ rights or homesteading, can be applied to various property types, like intellectual or digital/virtual property.
  • Landowners can take a few steps to prevent adverse occupation.

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