Adverse Possession Law and Legal Definition

Adverse possession is a means by which someone may acquire title to the land of another through certain acts over a defined period of time. Such acts must continue uninterrupted for the time period defined by state laws, which vary by state. In general, the acts of possession must be overt, hostile, exclusive, uninterrupted, and under a claim of right, etc., so as to give the owner or others claiming entitlement to possession notice and an opportunity to counter the adverse possession.

Payment of real property taxes and making improvements (such as paving or fencing) for the statutory period, which varies by state, are evidence of adverse possession but cannot be used by a land grabber with no claim to title other than possession. Those who seek to dispute a claim of adverse possession may bring an action to quiet title.

Claims of adverse possession are often hotly contested. State statutes govern the requirements for an adverse possession claim. There are often several statutes which may apply, depending on the type of land, i,e, private, public, forest lands, as well as statutes defining exceptions, so local laws need to be consulted for applicable requirements in your area. For example, in Illinois, the duration of such possession is seven (7) years when made under color of title and twenty (20) years otherwise. Certain public property is not subject to adverse possession. For example, in New York, public agencies holding property for a public purpose are not subject to claims of adverse possession. The following is an example of a Washington state statute on adverse possession:

Adverse possession under claim and color of title -- Payment of taxes.

Every person in actual, open and notorious possession of lands or tenements under claim and color of title, made in good faith, and who shall for seven successive years continue in possession, and shall also during said time pay all taxes legally assessed on such lands or tenements, shall be held and adjudged to be the legal owner of said lands or tenements, to the extent and according to the purport of his or her paper title. All persons holding under such possession, by purchase, devise or descent, before said seven years shall have expired, and who shall continue such possession and continue to pay the taxes as aforesaid, so as to complete the possession and payment of taxes for the term aforesaid, shall be entitled to the benefit of this section.

Steps an owner can take to avoid losing land by adverse possession include:

  • Give permission in writing to use the land
  • Post signs and block access
  • Hire a lawyer
  • Call police to remove or eject the trespasser

The following is an example of an Ohio state statute on adverse possession: "§ 5309.89. Title by prescription or adverse possession.

No title to registered real property in derogation of that of the registered owner shall be acquired by prescription or adverse possession.