“Squatters rights” is one of those legal theories we grow up hearing, much like “finders keepers” or “possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
But “squatters rights” actually has a legal basis called “adverse possession” under which land can change ownership if neglected and claimed under specific circumstances.
While the idea of losing entire parcels of land is possible, more likely is a problem with fences and land boundaries. For example, if you own land in a platted subdivision and build an outbuilding that inadvertently partially lies on a neighbor’s property, if legal circumstances are met you may keep the building on the neighbor’s land.
There are certain circumstances that need to be met. The trespasser must:
Occupy the land for at least seven consecutive years.
Pay taxes on the land for at least seven years.
Intentionally inhabit the land without being evasive.
Occupy the land without the owner’s permission.
Have at least some good-faith title to the land, even if that title is in dispute or is proved invalid through examination of other documents.
In a boundary dispute, own land contiguous to the land in dispute.
In some cases, adverse possession is an issue when a property has been handed down several generations through inheritance but lacks a record of home ownership.
Requirements relating to wilderness (such as a forest), acreage (such as a pasture) and tax-exempt property are slightly different but the basic rules remain the same.
This is a complicated area of law that requires a fine touch. If you find yourself with a problem over land ownership, it is wise to seek out qualified, experienced legal counsel.