Adverse Possession Explained

A trespasser can gain legal title to a house through adverse possession.
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According to LexisNexis, adverse possession is the process by which a wrongful possessor of property can gain title to the property, and the true owner can lose title to the property. Gaining title to real property by adverse possession results from the operation of a statute of limitations for trespass to land. If the true owner of the property does not eject the trespasser from the property within the statute of limitations, title vests in the trespasser.

Requirements for Adverse Possession

A trespasser enters another person’s property without the owner’s permission. According to LexisNexis, once entering another person’s property, a trespasser can establish a claim of adverse possession if he satisfies the following requirements: actual entry resulting in exclusive possession, open and notorious possession, possession adverse to the owner’s possession and continuous possession of the property for the statutory period. The statutory period differs depending on the state in which the land lies.

Adverse Possession Explained

To establish actual entry, the trespasser must be physically present on another person's land and use the land in the manner that the owner would. Using the land without fear that anyone will find out satisfies the open and notorious requirement. The trespasser cannot sneak onto another person's property every night and leave before anyone finds out and claim open and notorious use. In addition, the trespasser's possession of the land must conflict with the interest of the true owner. If the owner gave a person permission to use his land, the person cannot claim title by adverse possession, no matter how long he possessed the property. The trespasser must also have possession of the property continuously for the statutory period, which will be a number of years.

Gaining Title

A young couple could benefit from the law of adverse possession. Take this example: Newlyweds look to purchase a new house in a desirable neighborhood. They find that the prices of the houses in the neighborhood exceed their budget. They cannot purchase a house in the neighborhood, but they find an abandoned house there. They move in and openly live there for the statutory period. The newlyweds subsequently gain title to the property through adverse possession. Any person who takes the risk of gaining title through adverse possession should anticipate a lawsuit from the rightful owner.

Losing Title

On the other hand, a young couple could lose their property through the law of adverse possession. Take this example: Newlyweds own a house in California, but the husband receives a 10-year employment contract in Michigan. The newlyweds decide to move into an apartment in Michigan, yet keep their house in California. While the couple lives in Michigan, a trespasser moves into the house and lives there openly, exclusively and continuously for the statutory period. Because the couple never checks on the house or ejects the trespasser, the trespasser automatically gains title through adverse possession. According to LexisNexis, a person who satisfies all the elements of adverse possession automatically gains title to the property. A good rule of thumb for people who leave real property vacant is to periodically check on the property to prevent a trespasser from possessing the property.

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