What Are Adverse Possession Laws?

Most states have certain laws pertaining to adverse possession. While these laws will differ from one state to another, there is a common basis to the law. Adverse possession involves claiming ownership of the property of someone else simply because of maintenance done to that property. In other words, if you participate in maintaining property that belongs to someone else, even without their permission or assistance, adverse possession laws may apply which would give you the right to take that property and legally own it.

The key word here is adverse. In order for adverse possession laws to apply, the person claiming the possession must have maintained or lived on the property without permission of the actual owner. An example would be if you were to farm land that belongs to someone else. If this land has been neglected in the past and you choose to begin farming it without speaking with the owner and gaining permission and that owner does not attempt to stop you from farming the land, you may be legally permitted to claim adverse possession. If however, the owner of the land agrees at some point in writing that you have permission to use that land for as long as you want, these laws no longer apply. If the owner grants permission for you to use the land then it is known as permissive use and you cannot claim adverse possession. You must be using property that belongs to someone else and using that property without any permission from them whatsoever in order for adverse possession to be considered.

There is another stipulation on whether or not adverse possession applies. If you are using the property of someone else, you have to be using it in an obvious manner. You cannot hide the fact that you are farming someone else’s land for instance. The maintenance that you are providing has to be done in a way that is obvious to the general public or to the person who actually owns the property. Adverse possession laws are designed to penalize landowners who allow their properties to go to waste. Owning property is a privilege in other words and a privilege that can easily be taken away. In the case of adverse possession, property ownership is granted to the person who is actually taking care of that property.

In some states there are timelines that must be followed in order for adverse possession laws to be valid. Some states dictate that the maintenance of the property must be done without written permission from the actual property owner and that this maintenance must be maintained for at least fifteen years. Different states may have different timelines. California for instance has a timeline of only five years while Virginia mandates fifteen years of open maintenance. If you feel that adverse possession laws apply to you, you should speak with a real estate attorney in your state of residence to determine whether or not you qualify for ownership of the property under these laws.

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