What is Adverse Possession?

Jun 11, 2016

Understanding the complexities of adverse possession can seem overwhelming. Let’s start with the basics:

Adverse possession is a method of gaining legal title to real property by the actual, hostile, and continuous possession of it to the exclusion of its true owner for the period prescribed by state law. Many landowners find themselves in a sticky situation when someone claims the right to land due to long term use by his or her neighbor. Typically, the amount of time can be lengthy but if unmonitored can have negative consequences.

An example of this is when a new owner purchases a property and they notice that the neighboring fence encroaches on the new owner’s property. The title search and survey shows that the encroachment exists, and it is also noted on the title policy. After the new owner discusses the encroachment issue with the neighbor, he learns that the fence has been in place for quite some time. He also learns that the area inside the fence has been in long-term use by the neighbor. Though the new owner does not want to have the current fence removed or relocated, he is concerned that an adverse possession action may result in having to forfeit part of the property he just purchased.

It is scary to think that under these circumstances, a trespasser can use a portion of your land, occupy it and then gain ownership of it. In this example, the new owner might have to forfeit a few feet of land, in other situations, it could be hundreds of acres. In many cases, encroachments and use of land could have been an honest mistake due to a bad survey or an unclear legal description. The issue goes unresolved and results in an adverse possession action.

What Can the New Owner Do?

One example of protective action in this case  is for the new owner to grant an easement to the encroaching neighbor thereby establishing the land ownership and avoiding any adverse possession action in the future. By giving written permission to someone to use your land and having them acknowledge the use makes it clear that the person understands whom the land belongs. By no means is this the only remedy. If you are unsure if you need help with an adverse possession situation, you should contact an attorney and discuss your specific situation.

If you are purchasing a new property and are concerned with possible issues with title to your property, it is always a good idea to purchase an owner’s title insurance policy to protect the rights to your land. An owner’s title insurance policy can be purchased for a one-time premium, and the coverage is valid for as long as the owner holds title to the property.

Our experienced professionals at U.S. Title Solutions can provide you with additional  information or discuss your current situation and options as it pertains to Title Insurance and your pending purchase.  Give us a call today!