What is Adverse Possession?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Adverse possession is the occupation of property for an extended period of time, as defined by law, which is not legally owned by the person occupying the property. This is sometimes called squatting, or squatter’s rights. Clearly the property is unoccupied, and if a person lives at the property for long enough, 10-12 years in many states, they can come to own the property, even if they legally have no claim to it. Adverse possession can thus be said to be a means of acquiring land or homes, without ever having to pay for it.

Adverse possession can occur when one builds a fence a few feet onto a neighbor's property.
Adverse possession can occur when one builds a fence a few feet onto a neighbor's property.

It can’t be said that squatting is legal. In fact, the time of occupation prior to gaining the title of the property is specifically illegal. If the person actually owning the property chooses, he can have people who are squatting removed from the property and charged with trespassing. You really can’t just walk onto someone else’s property and claim it for your own without expecting legal repercussions. Further, in many cases, if you leave the property, you lose any time you have accrued through squatter's rights.

Someone who moves into an abandoned home that they do not own can adversely possess the property.
Someone who moves into an abandoned home that they do not own can adversely possess the property.

Adverse possession, in order to be considered so, must fit three categories of definition. The person must physically possess the property in a visible and real manner. The person also mentally possesses the property, sometimes called hostile possession. This means the squatter or possessor restricts the use of the property by others. Lastly, the person’s possession of the property must be continuous. As stated above, you can’t leave the property for any period of time.

Most cases of adverse possession are fairly innocent ones, that don’t involve people squatting on land. A poorly drawn map of a person’s property that is incorrect can mean people feel they have a right to possess more land than they actually own. The wrong owner could fence off a small strip of land. If this goes unnoticed by the real owner of the land, and the possession is physical, hostile and continuous, then over time the person without the right to the specific property might own it through squatter's rights.

If the real owner of the property realizes the mistake, he or she can go to court to gain full possession of owned property. Sometimes simply pointing out to the neighbor that the property they fenced is adversely possessed ends adverse possession. Often these issues over small patches of land are resolved when correct drawings of property lines are made, without any need for court resolutions. Alternately, if the real owner of the property really does not care about a tiny amount of land he or she may ignore squatter's rights, and allow the neighbor to gradually annex it through continuous occupation.

Homesteading laws, and mining rights were a way of acquiring property quite similar to that used in adverse possession. Over time, people could gain title to lands they built on, farmed, or mined, provided they stayed there for long enough. This is the one case where a fairly innocent type of squatting gives you title to land owned by the government. In most other cases, you can’t adversely possess government land. Each state has its restrictions in regard to government owned property.

Other cases of adverse possessions, where trespass is willful and clearly understood are less common. These may result when people abandon property. A person can move into an abandoned home and adversely possess it. They may even pay the taxes on the home to prove actual occupation of the property. In divorce settlements, squatter's rights can play a factor in determining who acquires title to different types of owned property. If a person ignores the property laws regarding who owns what, they can gradually regain title to property they’ve had to split, by still possessing it.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I have a female friend staying with me to help her save money. In return, she has given me money towards paying my rent. I have a signed lease in my name only, so technically she is not supposed to be staying there. I've been asking her to leave and she refuses. She says it's her place too since she has helped pay rent.

There has been no documentation or receipts given to the fact of her giving me any money. She also had all her mail forwarded to my address without my knowledge. Legally, does she have any rights to my residence or personal property?


I have a room in my mother's name, which has been run by my step brother for eight to 10 years now without any registration/agreement of rent. I would like to know if he can claim the property by adverse possession, even if my mother is the owner and we have all the legal rights over it. Any response would be appreciated.

He sold my mother's room. One problem is the land the room is on is owned by the government, but I pay taxes on it,


I have a residential flat in my name. I pay the maintenance charges regularly, but the flat is currently occupied by my sister for the last 30 years. She does not allow me to enter the house. How do I claim my flat back?


I let a house to a tenant, but the tenant has stopped payment of all rent and has denied she ever signed a tenancy agreement.

I have been through the courts and they are dragging the case. I have filed a notice of discontinuance as the costs were mounting up. What else can I do to get my house back?


My uncle and I have equal rights over a property where we are residing. One day my uncle put his part of property in my name so that I became the one and only owner of that property. After some time, I was trying to sell my property. Now he is refusing to leave and is still residing on my property. What should I do to make him and his family leave?


My fiance and I purchased a home a year ago. My neighbor claims he owns five feet on my side of the fence. He says that he moved the fence five feet into his property, like 25 years ago to keep his children out of the drain in the back of our lot. Can we say we own this property because he doesn't maintain it and it's been fenced into our yard for close to 30 years?


I have a shop in my mother's name, which has been run my my cousin for eight to 10 years now without any registration/agreement of rent. I would like to know if he can claim the property by adverse possession, even if my mother is the owner and we have all the legal rights over it. Any response would be appreciated.


I've lived on my property since January 1998. For nearly 14 years, I've paid all council taxes and paid cash through a third party who used his solicitor. The third party died and just found out he and the solicitor put he property in his name and have mortgaged my property several times and the mortgage company is now trying to evict me since I have no documentation, only the memorandum of sale that was sent from the estate agent to all parties with my name on it and the solicitor supposedly acting on my behalf who also had this document kept in his file. Can anyone help?


My age is 42 i brought up from there. in the year 1980 a party made registration without our knowledge. how i will defend myself?


If someone possessed part of your land for many years and is claiming adverse possession, what is your best defense to win the case?


What about visual perception of property? In our case, nearly nine years ago when we bought our first home, there was established landscaping and a driveway off the 20' dirt road. A couple weeks ago our neighbor informed us that he owns most of what we perceived as our frontyard due to a parcel easement clause in our deed. Our bad I guess that we did not pay attention to that parcel II clause -- but we did not even consider it because of so many established elements of the property.

Is there anything we can do to keep the neighbor from tearing down the landscaping and widening the road to within 10 feet of our living room window?


>tracyk: I think it's the matter of 'easement'.


i have a legal matter that is really making life hard!! we have owned our property for over 6 years. the neighbor had their property surveyed and 3 feet of the end of our driveway is technically theirs. we can not move our driveway over the 3 feet because of a very big old tree. The neighbor did not have a problem with the 3 feet until we regraveled it. Then they decided to put a boulder there so we could not use it! the police came and had it moved.

Now they have contacted a lawyer and had a legal document sent to us that claims we have to stop using our driveway.So my question is, can they legally do this or is there some kind of law that allows us rights to our driveway since it has been this properties driveway for over 20 years? plaese help!!


The owner of the lot next door to me never filed a deed for the lot. In fact, a deed has never been filed on the lot at the county court house. I have tried to find/contact the owner by phone, registered letter, computer searches, etc., for the past twenty years. I recently found that even the tax assessor's office can not find the owner. We fenced off the lot and have maintained the property for the past twenty three (23) years, we have used the property as part of our circular driveway, and just recently paid the back taxes on the property for the past twenty (20) years. I understand that I can obtain ownership to the property by "Adverse Possession". My question is: What do I do to have the property actually deeded into my name?


Can a lien holder pay taxes to protect his interest and then abandon his lien to take the property by Adverse Possession. Can the time period that the lien accrued be used as an element in Adverse Possession to meet the statutory time period required?

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