By: Makenzie Sipes
Did you know a trespasser can gain legal ownership of your land just by occupying it? In the legal profession, this is called “adverse possession.”
Don’t worry, adverse possession does not happen overnight. There are a variety of factors one must prove in order to obtain legal title to your land. A plaintiff filing an action for adverse possession must show that he or she has been in possession of real property and that the possession has been actual, visible, open, notorious, exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted for at least 15 years, hostile, and under a cover or claim of right. As you can see, the burden is heavy for the adverse possession plaintiff, but you would be surprised at how common this legal principle is.
To be open and notorious, the possession must be obvious, meaning the occupation is not done in secret.
Exclusive possession means the land is being occupied exclusively by the person seeking adverse possession, and not shared with the public or the true owner.
Continuous and uninterrupted means all the elements of adverse possession must be satisfied for the entire 15-year period.
The term “hostile” does not mean unfriendly or antagonistic. Rather, it means the land is being used inconsistent with the rights of the true property owner or without the true property owner’s permission. If a landowner gives you permission to use the property, your possession is not considered hostile.
Adverse possession often arises in boundary disputes between neighbors. Common incidents include fences, garages, or driveways built over boundary lines. If these structures are maintained for the 15-year period, and all the elements of adverse possession are satisfied, the trespasser may gain legal ownership over that land, thus changing the established boundary line. The trespass usually is not discovered until a neighbor has a survey of their land completed.
To protect your land, or if you believe you have adversely possessed real property, contact one of our attorneys. Adam D. Flory and Errick A. Miles practice in the area of boundary disputes at SMITH BOVILL, P.C. These articles are intended to introduce various issues arising within this field of practice and are not intended to replace individual legal advice. If you have questions, please contact the firm’s Saginaw office.