How Adverse Possession Works

For adverse possession to go through, both parties must meet certain requirements. Adverse possession requirements can vary from state to state, but there are some standard rules.

  • Time: The trespasser must have used the land for a certain amount of time. Depending on the jurisdiction, this could be anywhere from three to 60 years. The trespasser should also show that they used the land consistently.
  • Intention to Own: The trespasser should intend to own the land. There has to be evidence proving that this was the intention from the beginning. Some actions such as using the land for parking your car, cutting the grass, and watering the plants show that the trespasser really acted as the owner.
  • No Consent by the Owner: The legal owner of the land must not approve of the trespasser claiming adverse possession. If the legal owner has permitted the use of the land to a person, then adverse possession is not possible.
  • Exclusive Ownership: The land should be used only by the person claiming adverse possession. If the public, the legal owner, or another party uses the property, the court cannot grant adverse possession.
  • Open and Obvious: The trespasser should have been using the land publicly and openly. Adverse possession doesn't count if the trespasser is using the land secretively.

Adverse Possession Example

Beth lives in a city called Greenville. Every time she goes to work, she sees a beautiful abandoned house. One day, after Beth finished work, she decided to go check it out. It was spacious and very dusty. She could tell that no one was staying there because of the condition of the house. Beth was struggling with money, and her rent was a big part of the problem—it was too high.

Times got tough for Beth and her landlord kicked her out. She decided to move into the abandoned house. To her advantage, it was closer to her workplace, and she could save more money by walking instead of taking a bus as she used to. With time, Beth's finances improved, and she managed to buy furniture for the house. It was now nearly seven years and Beth wanted to be the legal owner of the property since no one ever came to claim it.

She went to court and met all the requirements for adverse possession. The court granted her request. Beth was now the owner of the house. A few months later, a man named Edwin knocked on Beth's door and claimed to be the owner. He even submitted evidence to confirm it. He later went to court to take back the land since Beth refused to move out. Edwin could not get back his property back since it was too late.

History of Adverse Possession

During the Middle Ages in England, land law dictated that if someone used a piece of land for a long enough time, they'd be granted adverse possession. It didn't matter how they acquired the land either, even if they stole it. As long as the person had been using the land for a long time, the person would be considered the property owner.

According to Roman law, someone was a landowner through adverse possession if they had been using the piece of land for a long period of time. They could not obtain the property illegally and the original owner could not claim ownership. Several countries, Italy and Belgium among them, adopted this version of the adverse possession law. More and more countries embraced it over time and modified it according to their needs.

In 2002, the United States enacted the Land Registration Act. This act explained how jurisdictions were to carry out the adverse possession process.