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How adverse possession works

Adverse possession is a legal term describing how someone can gain a legal title over property owned by someone else. Theoretically speaking, a person can trespass on a piece of land and like it so much that they decide to stay. Once they stay, they start to clean it up, make it productive or otherwise improve it to the point where making them leave the land would be a hardship.

While this could be a stranger moving onto an isolated or forgotten piece of land or property, it more often involves a neighboring property owner who uses the land over time or otherwise treats it as their own. They may even have bought an adjoining parcel thinking that it also included land that is legally held by someone other than the person who sold it to them. The occupant may then build a barn or other structure on the property, thinking the land is theirs.

Requirements for adverse possession

Those who use a property, but do not have title must satisfy four requirements:

  • They must enter the property without the owner’s permission.
  • They must be present on the land, treating it as their own (including paying taxes).
  • They must use the land in an obvious or open way, such as cultivation.
  • They must use the land for continuous periods without sharing it.

The landowner with the title has five years to challenge the claim, and then the title passes to the trespasser. In all cases, the burden of proof remains with the trespasser – often, it includes the trespasser paying taxes and cultivating the land.

Texans take property ownership very seriously

Land disputes happen, and sometimes, they will involve adverse possession. These disputes can be hard-fought, with both sides adamantly believing that they own the property. It can lead to court battles between neighbors who were once friendly.