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November 22, 2018

Adverse Possession


Word of the day

Adverse Possession

The acquiring of title to real property owned by someone else by means of open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession for a statutory period of time. The main purpose of adverse possession statutes is to ensure the fullest and most productive use of privately owned land. The burden to prove title is on the possessors, who must show that four conditions were met: (1) They have been in possession under a claim of right. (2) They were in actual, open, and notorious possession of the premises so as to constitute reasonable notice to the record owner. (3) Possession was both exclusive and hostile to the title of the owner (that is, without the owner’s permission and evidencing an intention to maintain the claim of ownership against all who may contest it). (4) Possession was uninterrupted and continuous for at least the prescriptive period stipulated by state law. In this regard, successive occupation of the premises by persons who are successors in interest (that is, by privity of contract or descent) can be added together to meet the continuous-use requirement. For example, a father adversely occupies a certain parcel of land for four years. Upon his death, his son succeeds to his interest and “tacks on” to his father’s four-year prior possession. Two words can serve as memory aids: POACH (possession is open, actual, continuous, and hostile); CANOE (possession is continuous, actual, notorious, open, and exclusive). 

The statutory period does not run against any individual under a legal disability (insanity) or until the individual has a legal cause of action to oust the possessor. For example, an adverse possessor could acquire title against a life tenant but not against the remainderman, who has no right to possession until the prior life estate is terminated. 

Persons who claim title to property by adverse possession do not have readily marketable title until they obtain and record a judicial decree “quieting” the title or obtain a quitclaim deed from the ousted owner. When all requirements have been met, the owner’s title is extinguished, and a new title is created in favor of the adverse possessor. The effective date of the new title, as far as the original owner is concerned, is the first adverse entry. Thus, suits by the former owner based on trespass, profits, or rents during the adverse period are barred. 

Most states do not require the claimant to have paid taxes on the property for any certain period of time (although in some states, a claimant’s paying taxes may shorten the prescriptive period). However, a court might consider that failure to pay taxes is evidence that the claimant really did not claim ownership of the property. 

The courts do not usually allow a claim of adverse possession if owner and claimant have a close family relationship, such as father and son or husband and wife, because in these cases, hostile claims are too difficult to prove. Cotenants normally cannot claim adverse possession against each other without an actual and clear ejectment of one cotenant by another.

Prescriptive rights in general are not usually favored by the law, insofar as they cause others to forfeit their rights. There is often a presumption that, when a person has entered into possession of another’s property, such possession was with the owner’s permission and consistent with the true owner’s title. 

Generally, one cannot take title to state or federal lands by adverse possession. However, the federal Color of Title Act provides that a claimant who has met all four tests of adverse possession on public land may receive a patent to such land, provided that the land does not exceed 160 acres and that all taxes are paid. The United States, however, reserves the right to all coal and mineral rights to the property. In addition, title to Torrens-registered property usually cannot be taken by adverse possession.

 

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