Land disputes can arise for many different reasons. A deed description may inaccurately state property boundaries. Or perhaps two neighbors have deeds that contradict each other. And under some circumstances, although all parties may agree on the legal boundaries of the property, a non-owner may have used the property long enough that they can claim legal rights to it. This situation is known as adverse possession.
How does adverse possession work?
Adverse possession often occurs on property boundaries. Under the law, when an individual has consistently used someone else’s property in a certain manner for a long enough period of time, they can file a claim to obtain rights to that property. For the non-owner (squatter) to be eligible for adverse possession, all of the following criteria must be met:
- The squatter must have been physically present and continuously using the property in question for seven years.
- The squatter has used the land in a way that is public and obvious to the owner. For instance, the squatter may have built a fence on the land or used the land for farming.
- The squatter’s use of the land must be adverse—i.e., they did not receive the owner’s permission to use the land.
This final point is of particular importance for a land owner facing the prospect of losing their land due to adverse possession. In the 2015 Arkansas case Bingham vs. C&L Electric Cooperative, the property owner lost the case because he had not made it explicitly clear to C&L Electric that he allowed them to use his land. Because there was no permission expressly given, the court found that permission was not implied, and so C&L Electric was able to pursue the lawsuit under the criteria for adverse possession. The owner lost his land in the claim.
If you allow an individual or company to use your land for any purpose, it is important to clearly state in writing that you give permission for this arrangement. In this way, you can help nullify the case for someone to claim adverse possession against you.