Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is a doctrine under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire valid title to it, so long as certain common law requirements are met, and the adverse possessor is in possession for a sufficient period of time, as defined by a statute of limitations.

The common law requirements

The common law requirements have evolved over time, and the articulation of those requirements varies somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Typically, adverse possession, in order to ripen into title, must be:

(1) Continuous; this means continual possession by a single adverse possessor, or by successive adverse possessors so long as privity exists between them.

(2) Hostile to the interests of the true owner; this is the adverse part of adverse possession.

(3) Open and notorious, so as to put the true owner on notice that a trespasser is in possession.

(4) Actual, so that the true owner has a cause of action for trespass, on which the true owner must act within the statute of limitations.

(5) Exclusive, in order that there be no confusion as to who acquires title once the time has run.

The statute of limitations

A typical statute will require possession for 7 years, if under color of title, or 20 years, if not.

A mnemonic may help with remembering the decisional and statutory elements of adverse possession; think of it as inchoate ownership which becomes choaTe [(i.e. continuous, hostile, open, actual, for the requisite period of Time, and exclusive). Decisional pieces are indicated in lowercase, statutory ones in uppercase.].

Last updated in August 2016 by Joseph Szydlo.