Let’s say you own a piece of land in a rural area of Arizona. Your neighbor decides to put up a fence between your property and theirs. Ten years pass. You suddenly discover the fence was actually encroaching on your property the entire time, rather than residing on the boundary. Because of the amount of time passed, and the fact that you knew that the fence went up, and never made any effort to remove the encroaching fence from your land, your neighbor can now claim the land on their side of the fence as their own, despite it previously belonging to you. How? Adverse possession laws.
Many states have laws on the books to outline what are commonly called “squatter’s rights”. These laws determine how a trespasser can gain legal right to a piece of land simply by inhabiting it for specific period of time. Usually, this doesn’t mean a stranger appearing out of nowhere, squatting on your land, and then gaining control of your property (though under some circumstances, that can happen). Instead, this kind of real estate dispute typically crops up between neighbors, as seen in our example above.
In order for an adverse possession claim to be official, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. In our fence illustration, you remain the rightful owner of the property until your neighbor can provide enough evidence that they are now entitled to it. This includes proving they were openly occupying or using the land without the owner’s permission, the occupation was continuous for the required number of years, and they had sole use of the property during that time. Until that can be proven, the original owner maintains the right.
There are many different kinds of adverse possession claims. For instance, simply using and enjoying the property requires ten years of adverse possession. However, if you improve the property and pay taxes on it, despite not owning it, you can lay claim to the land after five years. Another scenario would be when someone has color of title. This is a title that appears legitimate, but in reality has a defect or mistake, rendering it technically unable to transfer ownership. However, if you occupy the land for three years, you can still gain legal right to the property. Moreover, even if you only occupied a portion of the land in the title, the combination of color of title and adverse possession claims could allow you to gain all of property.
As you can see, adverse possession cases can be complicated and contentious. Whether fighting for or against an adverse possession claim, you need a trained real estate lawyer on your side. Don’t let your property slip through your fingers on a technicality! Call us today: (602) 252-9937.
Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.