The concept of “adverse possession” is one of the oldest doctrines in property law. In simple terms, if a person is deemed to have adversely possessed someone else’s property for a long enough period of time, the first person may be able to acquire legal ownership over it.
In order to acquire title to real estate by adverse possession, “the possessor must show twenty years of adverse, continuous, exclusive and uninterrupted use of the land claimed.” O’Hearne v. McClammer, 163 N.H. 430, 435 (2012). Therefore, in order to constitute adverse possession, the property must be used without the actual owner’s permission, and must be used for twenty continuous years.
Occasional use of the property is not sufficient to constitute adverse possession. Additionally, the use must be open and visible enough that the true owner has (or should have) notice of the adverse possession.
Establishing title via adverse possession is difficult. Twenty years is a substantial period of time, and it is often difficult to prove continuous use. Courts construe evidence of adverse possession strictly. Adverse possession is not possible against government land.
The doctrine of “boundary by acquiescence” is closely related to adverse possession. Under that theory, if adjacent landowners have each occupied their property up to a certain boundary for twenty years, that boundary may become legally binding, regardless of how the deed’s metes and bounds read.
Author: Jay Leonard
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