One of the oldest doctrines in property law is known as adverse possession which is the taking of title to real estate by possessing it for a certain period of time It allows a party to obtain ownership of a piece of property without having a deed.
Adverse possession is most frequently seen in boundary line disputes. The boundary line challenge may only occur years after the purchase of the disputed land. For example, your neighbor does a survey of his property lines to fully understand the set back limitations for an anticipated home addition and in the process discovers that land he has always assumed was his and treated as his own may not be encompassed on his deed. In many old deeds, there may be only a vague reference to where a boundary line is located. Frequently the markers used in a deed to determine the boundary line, for example a tree or a stone wall, has been cut down or removed. Therefore, most property owners who trace their title back to deeds from the 1800’s may have only a general sense as to where their property line exists.
To make a claim for adverse possession, the claimant must have acted as if he is the true owner of the property. The claimant must possess the land to the exclusion of all other uses and he must possess the land conspicuously, that is doing things on the property that would show the world that he owns the property. Among those things might be building a house, logging, farming, planting a hedge or building a fence. Further, the claimant must possess the land adversely to the actual owner. This means that the adverse possessor cannot be occupying the land with the permission of the owner. The adverse possessor and the actual title owner are often both under the mistaken belief that the adverse possessor owns the land and the title owner is not giving permission to use land he does not believes he owns. Furthermore, the adverse possessor as acting as the title owner because he believes he is the title owner.
In New Hampshire the adverse possessor must do all the above actions continuously for a period of twenty years. If a prior adverse possessor was occupying the land for seventeen years and conveyed the property or their interest in the property to a second party who continued to adversely possess it for three more years before the neighbor challenges title to the land, then the twenty year period is satisfied.
Other locales where adverse possession can occur are roads, paths or beaches. For example a person may use a path to cut across another person’s property. If the user of the path has been openly and continuously using the property for twenty years, the true owner may be unable to stop them from continuing to do so.
If you believe that an adverse possession situation may exist, you should consult with one of the experienced attorneys here at Hamblett & Kerrigan to review your chain of title and the neighbor’s chain of title.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].