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 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 have evolved over time and they vary between jurisdictions. Typically, for an adverse possessor to obtain title, their possession of the property must be

  • A single adverse possessor must maintain continuous possession of the property.
  • However, the continuity may be maintained between successive adverse possessors if there is privity between them.
  • In this context, "hostile" does not mean "unfriendly." Rather, it means that the possession infringes on the rights of the true owner.
  • If the true owner consents or gives license to the adverse possessor's use of the propertypossession is not hostile and it is not really adverse possession. 
  • Renters cannot be adverse possessors of the rented property, regardless of how long they possess it.
Open and Notorious
  • Possession must be obvious to anyone who bothers to look, so as to put the true owner on notice that a trespasser is in possession.
  • One will not succeed with an adverse possession claim if it is secret.
  • The adverse possessor does not share control of the property with anyone else (unless in privity with themself).
  • They exclude others from possession, as if they were the actual owner.

A typical statute requires possession for 7 years, if under color of title, or 20 years if not. The threshold, however, varies by jurisdiction.

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]